Cliven Bundy is worried about one of his supporters.
On Monday, the recalcitrant Nevada rancher, who has waged a running battle of words and lawsuits with the federal government over public lands, made a phone call to an out-of-state supporter facing prison time over comments he made in support of the newly christened tea party folk hero.
Pennsylvania resident Will Michael, 24, pleaded guilty last month in federal court to threatening a Bureau of Land Management official as well as making interstate communication threats during Bundy's 2014 standoff with federal officials over land grazing rights.
Bundy says he feels responsible for the man's predicament and wanted to offer a show of emotional support.
"He's just a youngster -- he seems like a nice young man with good sense for a boy," Bundy told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. "They picked him out of a large group of people and I'm nervous these federal types are going to hang him as an example."
Michael left a profanity-laced phone message for Mike Roop, the chief BLM ranger for Washington and Oregon, that warned, "We're going to kill you," according to federal court documents. Officials say it was one of 500 threatening messages that Roop received.
Michael did not travel to southern Nevada to join hundreds of Bundy supporters, many armed with semiautomatic weapons, who converged on federal land after agents swooped in to seize Bundy's cattle. For decades Bundy has refused to pay government grazing fees because he does not recognize Washington's right to collect money on Nevada land.
Michael told authorities that he saw a video on social media showing Roop shoving aside Bundy's sister, who was blocking BLM vehicles in the cattle raid, officials said. Michael will be sentenced in July.
"He doesn't know how to defend himself," Bundy said Monday. "He faces up to 15 years in prison and that's just awful. His parents have helped him pay for a lawyer. And all because the young man spoke his mind."
In a phone interview, Michael told The Times that he was surprised to hear from Bundy. "I never expected the head of the entire cause would reach out to me," he said.
Michael, an assistant manager of a smoke shop in the tiny town of Emmaus, just south of Allentown, Pa., said he worries about his future but appreciates Bundy's gesture. He said he borrowed money from his parents to pay for a lawyer.
"There's not much he can do," he said of the rancher. "I signed the papers admitting I was guilty. Now all I can do is wait."
Bundy believes the aggressive federal approach is just the first in a series of legal moves officials might take against his own family after Bundy's so-called citizen militia challenged BLM officials in an armed face-off in April last year.
In the year after the desert showdown, which ended with federal officials backing off and releasing the rancher's cattle, Bundy has been celebrated by Americans who seek less federal intrusion into what they view as state business.
About 87% of land in Nevada, one of several Western states with land administered by the BLM, is run by the federal government, most of it scrub desert and prairie. Bundy followers say federal officials have blocked residents from hunting, fishing and hiking on the land, citing potential habitat damage.
But many BLM workers, especially in Nevada and neighboring Utah, have been on edge, facing the brunt of increasing public wrath. In some areas, officials have been instructed to not use marked government vehicles on the job for fear of inciting retaliation.
Bundy said that he had been careful to not break any laws and that he was waiting for some move from Washington. For years, he has represented himself in a long battle with officials over his use of government-administered land near his ranch, 80 miles north of Las Vegas.
"I'm a little bit worried; no, I'm quite a bit worried for this young man," Bundy said of Michael. "He's guilty for what he did and he's admitted that. He was exercising his right to free speech like all of us did.
"If they’re going to hang him, we all need to be hung, because we all have the same feelings."
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