The Nevada congressman whose district includes the ranch of a cattleman battling the federal government over grazing rights on public land says he wants the rancher’s armed supporters to leave.
"The community wants them to go," Rep. Steven Horsford, a freshman Democrat, said in an interview. The armed militiamen, some openly brandishing semi-automatic rifles, have been posted outside the Bunkersville ranch of Cliven Bundy for weeks.
The scene has caused many of his constituents to fear for their safety, Horsford said. "And it’s affecting our local economy."
Horsford met with the local sheriff last Sunday and is working to convene a meeting with other elected officials, including the governor, later this week to discuss how to deal with the self-described citizen soldiers.
Businesses, including hotels, have reported tens of thousands of dollars in lost income since the standoff between Bundy and federal agents over the $1 million in fees that the Bureau of Land Management says the rancher owes over his cattle grazing on public land.
Federal agents last month moved to round up and confiscate Bundy’s cattle, but after the militiamen rallied to the rancher’s defense the BLM backed off, though it says the matter is not settled. Bundy and his supporters are awaiting the government's next move.
Weeks later, the militia remain, scattered around Bundy's ranch 80 miles north of Las Vegas. Many still dress in military gear, living in camps with posted sentries and a command system.
The militiamen insist they have been well-received by the community and have received donations of food and free hotel rooms. They say people have stopped them to shake their hands.
Bundy's wife, Carol, disputed the congressman's comments that public opinion had turned against the militia's presence.
"People around here still want them to be around," she said. "I think this politician should get his facts straight. They take one comment and put it into the mouths of everybody here. And it's just not true."
She added the family has no plans to ask the militia to leave. "They're still serving their purpose," she said.
While conservative lawmakers in Washington initially embraced Bundy’s fight as an example of federal overreach, many have had little to say since the rancher made pointed comments about African Americans and social welfare.
Horsford said that when he visited his constituents last week, "this is all people can talk about .... This has put a negative image on the community," he said.
Residents of the area have expressed concern that "out-of-state" armed militia have set up checkpoints where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass, Horsford said in a recent letter to Clark County Sheriff Douglas C. Gillespie.
Horsford told the Los Angeles Times that he understood Bundy’s supporters’ rights to free speech and to assemble on private property.
"But when young kids don’t feel safe going to school, when moms don’t feel safe going to church on Sunday, and when law enforcement feels like their lives are at risk, then the general community’s rights have been violated," Horsford said.
As for Bundy, Horsford said he would leave that to the legal system.
"But it’s time for him to ask these militia groups to leave. Because his neighbors don’t want them there."
The Bundy clan have their own requirements for the Clark County sheriff. Last week three of the rancher’s sons, trailed by an army of TV cameras, rallied outside the sheriff’s office in Las Vegas and presented paperwork demanding an investigation of the federal government’s activities on what they said was land that should be managed by the state of Nevada.
Simon reported from Washington, and Glionna reported from Las Vegas.