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Lingering militia presence draws mixed reaction in Bunkerville

BUNKERVILLE — Rancher Cliven Bundy, whose refusal to pay fees for grazing cattle on public lands for 21 years led to a controversial roundup by the Bureau of Land Management, debunked claims Tuesday that militia followers who rallied to his cause continue to stir up this rural community with checkpoints and an armed presence.

In a wide-ranging, hourlong interview in the shade of his front yard six miles south of the community with 1,300 residents along the Virgin River, Bundy said he’d like to know how many complaints Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., has received. “Whether it’s been one, or five or 10 or how many.”

“There’s been something stirring here. I have no idea what it is. I never heard anything about any problems,” he said, adding that he’s aware of only two incidents: one in early April when some of his family members and supporters clashed with law enforcement on Riverside Road, and again on April 20 when he attended his Mormon church in Bunkerville.

“When we got there one of the militia men said something about it was church policy we couldn’t carry arms in the church. So I told them just leave them in the car, and they did. Then we went to church and there was no problem inside the church.

“Then when we come out, as far as I can tell, it wasn’t Metro, it wasn’t Clark County but there had been like two or three Mesquite police cars and they had been circling around the church and sort of harassing the militia that had stayed outside,” said Bundy, 68.

In a letter Sunday to Sheriff Doug Gillespie, Horsford, whose district includes the Bunkerville area, said the presence of armed militia groups in northeastern Clark County has “caused many of my constituents to fear for their safety.”

“Residents of Bunkerville and the surrounding area have expressed concern over the continual presence of multiple out-of-state, armed militia groups that have remained in the community since the BLM halted its actions” to impound Bundy’s cattle April 12.

That’s when an armed standoff between Bundy’s supporters and government agents resulted in more than 300 cattle being released from a corral where they had been kept following a weeklong helicopter roundup on public lands in the Gold Butte area.

Horsford’s letter claims militia members have set up checkpoints “where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass; have established a persistent presence along federal highways and state and county roads; and have established an armed presence in or around community area including local churches, schools and other community locations.”

On Tuesday, during the Review-Journal’s unannounced visit to Bundy’s residence, about a dozen militia members toted assault rifles or sidearms on the approach to his ranch, from the state Route 170 bridge that crosses the Virgin River near Interstate 15 to a militia camp, dubbed “Bunker Hill,” on the south side of the river off Gold Butte Road.

The only checkpoint was at the driveway leading to his ranch house where a few non-militia guards were on hand to protect Bundy and his family, according one guard who said he was a Marine veteran and not part of a militia group.

Near the Bunkerville Post Office, a short drive from a sign that reads, “Entering Bunkerville settled January 7, 1877,” a 71-year-old man said he agrees with Horsford and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., that the militias’ presence, though greatly reduced from a week ago, is still unsettling.

He said authorities need to take action.

“They ought to bring bigger guns and get rid of all of them,” said the man who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “I don’t think they ought to be running around here with guns.”

Questions about militias, however, drew mixed reactions from several residents who were interviewed.

A 17-year-old working in front of one house said, “Both sides are taking it a little too much to the extremes.”

Mikela Miller, 29, who has lived in Bunkerville for four years, said any complaints about militias are misleading.

“They’re not at schools, not at churches and there are no checkpoints,” she said. “They are some of the nicest people. I felt more threatened when the BLM looked through binoculars and scopes.”

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.

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