LAS VEGAS -- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff against the federal government over grazing rights was back at high pitch Friday when the cattleman’s family marched into Las Vegas Metropolitan Police headquarters here, demanding that local law enforcement open an investigation into the Bureau of Land Management.
This time there were no guns, only a few cowboy hats -- and a horde of media cameras.
Earlier this month, federal workers backed by armed agents stormed public lands near Bundy’s ranch to round up hundreds of cattle officials said had been grazing there illegally for more than two decades. Bundy claimed his family had worked the land for more than a century and his cattle was none of Washington’s business. He has refused to pay an estimated $1 million in grazing fees.
The federal government later backed down, abandoning the operation and releasing cattle it had collected, after an army of citizen-soldiers from around the country – many armed with semiautomatic weapons – rallied to Bundy’s defense.
Government officials said they ended the operation fearing violence if they persisted and have since said they will continue to pursue the rancher in the federal court.
Since then, the 67-year-old Bundy’s self-determined “range war” has continued to rage. Armed militiamen still make camp near his ranch.
On Friday, the Bundy clan unleashed a legal maneuver of its own -- appealing to Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who oversees the joint police and sheriff's department.
“We want the sheriff of Clark County to investigate the federal government for its actions,” said son Aamon Bundy, standing in the morning sun, his eyes shaded by a stained cowboy hat. “Their jurisdiction is not in the county and they must be held accountable.”
His clothing suggested a billboard for his anti-government cause: Bundy carried a miniature Constitution in his shirt pocket. He wore a button showing four armed Native Americans, reading “Homeland Security: Fighting terrorism since 1492.” On his hat was a button showing the acronym “BLM” with a circle and a slash.
The Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to requests for an interview Friday, but an official said Gillespie’s office would release a statement later Friday. In the past, the sheriff has said that any matter on land managed by the BLM is between Bundy and the federal government.
But family patriarch Cliven Bundy said he is not letting the issue rest. On Friday, he posted a press release online with a subject line reading “Bundy Range War,” that opened: “It’s CRIMINAL COMPLAINT TIME.”
The release went on to list crimes the family believes were committed by federal officials in the cattle roundup. They included: “Men blocking access to public land; Men harassing people for taking photos; Men threatening to fire upon unarmed civilians; Men using attack dogs.”
Bundy also put out a call for support from his growing following.
“The only way to get the Clark County Sheriffs office to investigate is to file a personal, individual 'Criminal Report' with the Sheriffs office. Simply calling them will not do it,” the release said. “We need as many of you as possible to go down to the Sheriffs office and file a formal ‘Criminal Report’. It is time we took some real action and the first step is to request the Sheriffs office take a stand one way or the other on how the BLM behaved throughout this period."
For weeks, Bundy has relied on the media to get his word out. For several days straight, he held 1 p.m. press conferences to list his growing ire against the federal government.
In one statement, he made several comments about social welfare and blacks and the corrosive effect of government subsidies: "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
A public firestorm erupted and Bundy later apologized. But his wife Carol later said the comments also served to keep Bundy’s battle in the media.
On Friday, the media were there again. Cameramen pushed for space as Ryan Bundy bowed his head and recited a prayer in the parking lot near downtown Las Vegas. “We send a prayer to the county sheriff that he will hear our plea,” he said.
A few moments later, Aamon Bundy stood outside the front doors of the Sheriff's Department and read a statement -- as several deputies stood in the nearby shadows looking on.
The media gaggle pushed its way into the front lobby, where Aamon Bundy approached a bank of glassed-off clerks and shoved under the window his legal petition calling for the investigation.
Someone in the crowd called out: “Thank you to your service to our country, Aamon.”
Outside, local contractor Brand Thornton, a Bundy supporter, also carried a pocket Constitution. He said he had hurried to the ranch weeks ago to defend the cattleman. He said he brought his AK-47 semiautomatic weapon but didn’t have to fire it.
“It’s just a tool,” he said. “I’ve only fired it a couple of times since I bought the thing in 1990.”