Cliven Bundy is throwing a shindig this weekend.
It’s a cookout he’s calling a “freedom celebration,” with burgers on the grill and much speechifying under the wide-open desert skies, with an attendance of perhaps thousands of people who support the Nevada rancher in his years-long battle against the federal government over what he calls the public’s right to use public land.
This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of when federal agents swooped onto the public lands near Bundy’s ranch to round up hundreds of cattle that the 67-year-old had been grazing without permits. The land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
The raid didn’t go well: Hundreds of supporters -- self-named citizen militiamen, many with semiautomatic weapons -- rallied around their new leader, creating at tense standoff between two armed camps.
In the end, on last April 12, the federal government backed down, released the cattle agents had corralled and -- poof! -- vanished.
That was then, and this is now.
The recalcitrant rancher -- who likes to carry a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his shirt breast pocket -- has since become the darling of the tea party and those who want a diminished federal government, especially out West.
And Cliven Bundy has decided it’s time to celebrate.
The camping ground occupied last year by his armed supporters was already filling up this week with tents and campers and folks from around the nation -- folks he likes to call "we the people." Most of the nearby hotels are full.
On Friday, he told the Los Angeles Times that he's got 2,000 buns and “all the Bundy beef people can eat” ready for the barbecue as he kicks off the three-day event on his small spread along the Virgin River near rural Bunkerville, 80 miles north of Las Vegas.
“I’m celebrating the fact that I’m still ranching on Nevada land -- how’s that?” Bundy said.
The federal Bureau of Land Management says Bundy still owes more than $1 million in unpaid fees for allowing his cattle to graze in the protected Gold Butte area.
But Bundy is still out there, albeit he admits that he’s looking over his shoulder.
“I haven’t been able to ranch this whole last year without looking around to see if I’m breaking some federal or state law. I don’t want to compete with the federal courts or the Washington bureaucracy. I just want to ranch. And I’m still here.”
Bundy said the idea for a party wasn’t his.
“A lot of people were calling the ranch, saying, ‘We ought to have a party! We need to celebrate!’ And I said, ‘OK, then, let’s do any anniversary.’ But it was we-the-people’s request.”
The slate includes bands and speeches by people sympathetic to the rancher's cause. Bundy plans to take the microphone as well.
“The statement I want to make is that we’re still exercising our rights to use public lands. And so far the federal government hasn’t made any legal or physical move, so we’ve got to be pleased with that,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
But he still anticipates that the legal ax will fall sometime.
“It’s hard to tell, but the feds, they’re probably going to do something. But they’re probably just standing back, looking at things. I don’t think they know what to do.”
Federal officials have been tight-lipped on any plans, other than suggesting that they plan to pursue the matter through the courts.
Bring it on, Bundy says.
“We the people have stood our ground,” he said. “They know if they make a move, they’ll upset America. And I don’t think they want to do that.”
Meanwhile, Bundy has been busy as a rancher rounding up cattle.
Late last month, he and several score supporters rallied in Carson City to support a proposal for the state to assume control of all Nevada lands -- some 87% of the state -- now administered by the federal government.
The bill is expected to be defeated.
Meanwhile, the party is on to mark the year-old face-off the rancher now calls “the Bundy Freedom Stand.”
And that makes him very happy.
“We’re enjoying our freedom,” he said. “People are saying that the Bundy ranch is the freest place in the world.”
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