BUNKERVILLE — Wearing a cowboy hat and with a copy of the U.S. Constitution poking from his shirt pocket, controversial rancher Cliven Bundy on Friday asked dozens of supporters of his cattle-grazing feud with federal land managers what they thought of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid calling them “domestic terrorists.”
“Are you guys domestic terrorists?” he asked the crowd gathered around a stage near the north bank of the Virgin River.
The supporters, many wearing name tags that said “domestic terrorist,” erupted with cheers and applause.
“That’s what I thought. I thought Harry was right,” said the 67-year-old Bundy, who was accompanied by armed escorts.
He made the statement before a “Patriot Party” that started at 5 p.m. with music by Madison Rising and Ron Keel, who sang with Black Sabbath briefly in 1984. A party atmosphere among a few hundred people grew as more supporters trickled in. Some people were cooling off in the river while dozens of armed militia members wearing camouflaged fatigues patrolled in and around the area.
Bundy was reacting to Reid’s comments Thursday in Las Vegas describing him as a lawbreaker for not paying grazing fees — an estimated $1 million he owes the Bureau of Land Management for 20 years of noncompliance with public lands grazing privileges — and defiance of court orders to remove up to 900 head of his desert cattle that roamed the Gold Butte area.
BLM agents and contractors on horseback and helicopters rounded up more than 300 of the herd but released them back to Bundy and his backers after an armed standoff on April 12. Because his militia supporters had rifles and assault weapons pointed to where federal officers guarded a corral holding the cattle, Reid on Thursday said a task force would be assigned to deal with what he described as domestic terrorists.
The Bundy camp had asked that the federal law enforcers remove their guns and secure them in a truck while the cattle were released.
At Friday’s news conference, Bundy said, “We’re not asking the county sheriff to disarm the citizens of the United States. We’re asking the United States to take the government-issued guns away from these people, and when they have uniforms on they shouldn’t be packing a gun.”
Asked what he’d do if he was served with a warrant for violating federal laws, Bundy answered, “What I said is, I’d yield to the sheriff, but I wouldn’t yield to the feds.”
He said he has a right to graze his cattle on public land, not just a privilege.
“They’re rights, and I own those rights,” Bundy said.
Bundy told his supporters that they were the heroes in the standoff, not him.
“You are the heroes. You people are the ones who did it,” Bundy said.
When a few of the supporters were asked what they thought of Reid calling them “domestic terrorists,” they welcomed the label.
“Him and his organization are the terrorists of this country,” John Vasilchin, 85, of Las Vegas, said about Reid.
“They’ve been destroying this country for the last eight years and previously back to (President Bill) Clinton,” Vasilchin said.
Mike Vanderboegh said he will unveil the “2014 incitement to civil war trophy” to Reid on Saturday at the Bundy ranch.
“Harry Reid said this ain’t over. You better believe this ain’t over,” said Vanderboegh, a self-described “Second Amendment activist” from Alabama.
Sitting inside his camper off a road in view of the Virgin River, Thomas Firth offered his perspective on Reid’s domestic terrorist description.
“That would be typical of Sen. Harry Reid,” said Firth, 64, of Anza, Calif. “Seems like it was a few years ago when we all got lumped either as a Christian, or a veteran or ‘you own a gun.’ You got lumped into that.
“If that’s the moniker they want to put on this, well so be it. I take a little bit different look at it. I think we are people who are actually standing up for our rights,” said Firth, a former cattle rancher.”
Star Hill, 45, made the short drive to the the rally from Logandale.
“For him to stoop to name-calling is probably pretty appropriate considering what people think of him,” she said about Reid.
She said she doesn’t consider herself a terrorist. Instead, “I consider myself somebody who came out to the river for a picnic.”
Review-Journal writer Ben Botkin contributed to this report. Contact Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter @KeithRogers2.