The chickens have finally come home to roost. Bundy clan patriarch Cliven Bundy sits in a Las Vegas jail cell while his sons and fellow “militia” remain incarcerated in multiple states. It may have taken nearly two years for the Bundys and their cronies to face retribution for the armed standoff at their ranch, but the wheels of justice have finally turned on them.
In 2014, federal agents went to Bundy’s property in Bunkerville to round up his cattle as compensation for $1 million in fees he owed the Bureau of Land Management for grazing rights on federal land. Bundy claimed he didn’t have to pay because his family had been on the land since 1877, and he doesn’t recognize the federal government. Court records show that Bundy’s father had actually purchased their ranch in 1948 and did not begin grazing on the federal land until 1954 (Dad, apparently, paid his fees). Bundy’s disavowal of the federal government was based on being a “sovereign citizen”—a convoluted philosophy alleging that the federal government became invalid when it went off of the gold standard (or after the Civil War, or maybe it was never legit at all …).
W. Cleon Skousen added passages from other documents and proclaimed that the “Constitution” supported his views—rather like declaring that Harry Potter is porn because you cut and pasted some passages from 50 Shades of Grey into it.
Bundy summoned a group of self-styled “patriots,” who trained guns on officers—one militant bragged that “if they made one wrong move, every BLM agent in that camp would have died.” The right wing rallied around Bundy because he had a cowboy hat, a gun and a line of anti-government patter—until he began making outrageously racist statements and his confederates talked of using women and children as human shields. Others backed off after Bundy hangers-on Jarad and Amanda Miller drove from the ranch to Las Vegas on June 8, 2014, where they killed a civilian and two police officers and draped the officers’ bodies in the Gadsden flag, proclaiming, “This is the beginning of the revolution!” The Bundy crew disavowed the Millers, but every time they gleefully waved their “Don’t tread on me” banner, one couldn’t help thinking of that same flag stained with the blood of a pair of cops who were just trying to eat lunch.
And after all of this, law enforcement … just walked away. Across the country, people marveled at how one could owe the government seven figures, point guns at police, threaten citizens and suffer no consequences.
Until 2016, when two of Cliven’s sons, Ammon and Ryan, led a militia group in a takeover at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Ostensibly, it was to demand the release of a pair of ranchers imprisoned for setting fires on federal property. The Bundys also demanded that all federal lands be turned over to local control, alleging that the government cannot own land. This idea comes from the “Skousen” Constitution, a version of the document created by W. Cleon Skousen, a John Bircher and fanatical anti-Communist. Skousen added passages from other documents and proclaimed that the “Constitution” supported his views—rather like declaring that Harry Potter is porn because you cut and pasted some passages from 50 Shades of Grey into it.
As of now, 19 people, including four of Bundy’s sons, have been arrested for their roles in the Bunkerville standoff.
After a month of waving guns on YouTube, begging people to send supplies and reinforcements—“If they stop you from getting here, kill them!” exhorted one occupier—and filling giant holes with human feces (a whole group of outdoorsmen and ex-military and apparently no one knew how to dig a latrine), the Bundy brothers and a number of their acolytes were captured by FBI agents in a roadblock. One, LaVoy Finicum, was killed by federal agents after vowing repeatedly to not be taken alive and approaching officers while taunting them to “Shoot me!” no less than seven times and gesturing toward the gun he was known to carry. (Finicum had self-published a novel in which the hero gunned down three federal agents in a similar face-off. Is that what he was thinking of during his final, defiant moments?)
Figuring he could just demand law enforcement do his bidding as he had in the past, Cliven Bundy hopped on a plane to Oregon—only to be arrested at the airport, where the man who usually surrounded himself with gun-toting bodyguards was alone and unarmed. (One imagines a group of FBI agents standing by the baggage claim holding a little sign that says “Bundy.)
As of now, 19 people, including four of Bundy’s sons, have been arrested for their roles in the Bunkerville standoff. They face charges including conspiracy, extortion, obstruction of justice, assaulting a law enforcement officer and use of a weapon in commission of a violent crime. Bundy’s two sons and a number of others also face prosecution for their roles in the Malheur occupation.
The court cases promise to be long and convoluted, as a number of the defendants seem intent on using sovereign citizen defense tactics, essentially the equivalent of “Get out of jail with this one weird trick.” Does the flag in court have gold fringe on it? It’s a “battle flag” and the court can’t prosecute you: Case dismissed! Did the judge call a recess? They “abandoned the court”: Case dismissed!
Despite facing life in prison, Cliven himself has thus far refused to enter a plea to any of his 16 felony charges, still insisting that the court has no jurisdiction over him. After all, as the patriarch of his family, the owner of his ranch, the leader of his militia, everyone has always kowtowed to his wishes. But, as he sits in a cell day after day, with someone else telling him when to eat, where to walk and whom to talk to, he may recall that old adage about possession being 9/10 of the law. The law has possession of Cliven Bundy and they will not be giving him up anytime soon—if ever.