This weekend is the anniversary of when federal agents swooped onto the public lands near Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch last year to round up hundreds of cattle that he had been grazing without permits.
LAS VEGAS — Cliven Bundy is throwing a shindig this weekend.
It’s a cookout he’s calling a “freedom celebration,” with burgers on the grill and speechifying under the wide-open desert skies, with an attendance of perhaps thousands of people who support the Nevada rancher in his yearslong battle against the federal government over what he calls the public’s right to use public land.
This weekend is the anniversary of when federal agents swooped onto the public lands near Bundy’s ranch last year 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 semi-automatic weapons — rallied around their new leader, creating a tense standoff between two armed camps.
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In the end, last April 12, the federal government backed down. Agents released the cattle they had corralled and vanished.
That was then, and this is now.
The rancher, who carries a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his 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 began filling up during the past 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.
He said Friday that he had 2,000 buns and “all the Bundy beef people can eat” ready for the three-day barbecue 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.
Bundy is still out there, but admits 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 an anniversary.’ But it was we-the-people’s request.
“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 still expects 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 haven’t discussed any plan, other than to suggest 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.”