BUNKERVILLE — A cheer erupted from the cowboy-hatted crowd early Monday afternoon as Cliven Bundy’s youngest daughter delivered the news: Davey had been set free.
“They gave him lunch and let him out,” Stetsy Cox, 21, told the assembled group of relatives and sympathizers at a rally for the embattled ranch family near the banks of the Virgin River.
In downtown Las Vegas a short time later, Dave Bundy spoke to the media about his arrest the day before in the federal roundup of his father’s cattle from public land 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
The 37-year-old said heavily armed federal agents roughed him up and arrested him for exercising his constitutional rights on a state highway in northeast Clark County on Sunday.
“They got on their loudspeaker and said that everyone needed to leave,” Dave Bundy said during an impromptu news conference alongside his father outside a 7-Eleven on Las Vegas Boulevard. “I stood there and continued to express my First Amendment right to protest, and they approached me and said that if I didn’t leave, they’d arrest me.”
The younger Bundy said he was taking photographs and protesting peacefully at the time.
Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office, said Bundy was cited on misdemeanor charges of “refusing to disperse” and resisting arrest.
Earlier, BLM spokeswoman Kirsten Cannon said Bundy was taken into custody to “protect public safety and maintain the peace.”
“The Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service support the public’s right to express opinions peacefully and lawfully. However, if an individual threatens, intimidates or assaults another individual or impedes the impoundment, they may be arrested in accordance with local, state or Federal laws,” Cannon said in a statement.
Cliven Bundy viewed his son’s arrest differently.
“What’s happening is they had stole cattle from me, and now they have taken their prisoner,” the father said. “Davey is a political prisoner. That’s what you want to call him — he’s a political prisoner.”
That sentiment appeared on several handmade protest signs at Monday’s rally, which drew more than 100 people to a tract of private ranch land next to the Riverside bridge on state Route 170.
The crowd gathered in response to an announcement Cliven Bundy sent Sunday night, after his son’s arrest, promising a range war and inviting the press to come cover it.
But Monday’s event wound up looking more like a barn-raising.
After a prayer and some speeches, the group walked up a nearby hill and gathered along the highway on land owned by one of Bundy’s neighbors. There they erected two 50-foot flag poles topped with metal script letters reading “We the People” and strung with a huge banner, the American flag and the flags of Nevada and Clark County.
They plan to use this spot as a rallying point for daily protests.
As they worked, cattle trucks escorted by BLM patrol vehicles kicked up dust along dirt roads in the distance.
Federal agents and contract cowboys — both on the ground and in the air, with at least one helicopter — expected to spend the next month or so rounding up Bundy’s herd, which could include more than 900 animals scattered over a remote, 90-mile swath of mountains and desert south of Mesquite.
The BLM and the National Park Service have closed off public access to almost 600,000 acres of federal land for the roundup.
Bundy considers much of that public land to use as he sees fit, but the BLM canceled his federal grazing permit 20 years ago after the rancher refused to accept new land-use rules for protecting the threatened desert tortoise and stopped paying his fees.
In the decades since, Bundy has challenged or ignored repeated directives from the government to remove his livestock from public land.
Two federal court orders issued within the last year authorized authorities to impound the “trespass cattle.”
The operation got underway Saturday morning and brought in 234 head of cattle through Monday.
Dave Bundy showed a Review-Journal reporter his scratched face and swollen, scraped hands while describing his arrest.
“Without any further questions, two rangers surrounded and a third one approached me, and they all jumped me, pulling different directions. And then a couple other guys jumped in, and they took me to the ground,” Dave Bundy said.
He said, “One ranger had had his knee on my spine, and the other one was on my head with his knee on the side of my head and his other knee on the back of my neck.”
Dave Bundy maintains his arrest was improper because he was standing along the side of Route 170 in a state right-of-way. BLM officials said the right-of-way is under their jurisdiction and within an area their agency had closed to the public.
When asked about Dave Bundy’s allegations of mistreatment, federal officials pointed to the charges for which he was cited, including resisting arrest.
Cliven Bundy was in Las Vegas early Monday to meet with Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, but it had nothing to do with his son’s arrest. Gillespie said their meeting was arranged on Saturday.
Bundy wanted contact information for Metro supervisors in his area, Gillespie said, and the sheriff provided him the information. But Gillespie reiterated that the Metropolitan Police Department has no plans to involve itself in the roundup.
“This is strictly a federal operation,” he said.
In a statement released Monday, the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association also distanced itself from Bundy and his livestock, noting that it supports effective range management and cooperation among agencies to balance ranching and the conservation of wildlife.
Though “sensitive and concerned how the Bundy cattle confiscation situation has evolved,” association leaders want no part of the dispute between the rancher and the federal courts.
“Nevada Cattlemen’s Association does not feel it is in our best interest to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter,” the association said.
Back at the rally, Bundy’s immediate family members served Sloppy Joes for lunch and supplied their supporters with cold drinks and popsicles. No firearms were spotted in the crowd.
Margaret Houston, Cliven Bundy’s younger sister, drove up from Logandale, at the southern edge of the temporary closure area, to take part in the protest. She said she hates to see the federal land outside her back door closed to the public while her family’s livelihood is gathered up and trucked away.
“I grew up on this ranch. This is what we knew,” she said. “It’s got nothing to do with the cattle and the tortoises. It’s about taking our rights — power — and it’s wrong.”
A few miles up the road, a “First Amendment Area” the BLM set up for rallies like this stood empty, save for a few signs attached to the outside of the orange plastic pen.
One of them read: “1st Amendment is not an area.”
As for Dave Bundy, he was kept at the Henderson Detention Center overnight, then released late Monday morning with his misdemeanor tickets in hand.
“They came in, wrote these citations, gave me a sack lunch and turned me loose,” he said.
Inside the sack he found a tuna sandwich.
“It wasn’t poison, I just ate it.”
Review-Journal writers Jeff German and Mike Blasky and photojournalist John Locher contributed to this report.