The standoff between a Nevada rancher and the U.S. government escalated Wednesday when protesters confronted federal agents tasked with the chore of rounding up approximately 900 “trespass cattle.”
The confrontation, captured on video, resulted in one protester, the rancher’s son, being hit with a stun gun while another, the rancher’s sister, was pushed to the ground. One woman said federal officials struck her with their vehicle.
“You have no right to be here!” a female protester shouted at agents.
One of agents warned the demonstrators to back up or they would get bitten by their K9 unit.
“Don’t threaten a woman!” another protester shouted back.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and U.S. National Park Service confirmed in a statement that one protester was hit with a stun gun, adding that the action only occurred after a demonstrator attempted to block federal agents with an all-terrain vehicle.
“A BLM truck driven by a non-law enforcement civilian employee assisting with gather operations was struck by a protester on an ATV, and the truck’s exit from the area was blocked by a group of individuals who gathered around the vehicle,” the agencies said in a statement.
Content warning: video contains strong language.
Protesters, many of whom have traveled from neighboring states to form “militias” in support of the rancher, have “crossed into illegal activity,” the statement added, claiming demonstrators are “blocking vehicles associated with the gather, impeding cattle movement, and making direct and overt threats to government employees.”
“These isolated actions that have jeopardized the safety of individuals have been responded to with appropriate law enforcement actions,” the agencies said.
Agents from the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service closed the Gold Butte area in Clark County, Nev., last week to remove 67-year-old rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle from land controlled by the federal government, but put in place “First Amendment zones” for protesters to gather.
Bundy does not own the land, which is near his 150-acre ranch, and has not paid grazing fees since 1993, claiming that he doesn’t recognize the federal government’s claim to the property.
The veteran rancher said he is entitled to use of the land because his family has done exactly that for decades, even before the Bureau of Land Management was formed.
The General Land Office and Grazing Service combined in 1946 to form the Bureau of Land Management, which has been given the authority to regulate public lands, including nearly 600,000 acres in Gold Butte.
Cliven Bundy was born in 1947.
“I have raised cattle on that land, which is public land for the people of Clark County, all my life. Why I raise cattle there and why I can raise cattle there is because I have preemptive rights,” Bundy told TheBlaze Monday. “Who is the trespasser here? Who is the trespasser on this land? Is the United States trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Or is it Cliven Bundy who is trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Who’s the trespasser?”
The federal government in 1998 declared the property off-limits to all cattle so that it could be turned into a habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. Bundy was ordered by a judge that year to leave the area. He refused.
Agents from the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service were sent to the area last week only after federal authorities decided that all other options had been exhausted.
“There is not much of a ‘legal claim,’” Jeremy Hudia, an Ohio attorney familiar with the legal claims being made, told TheBlaze in an email. “There is a permit process [that] was originally designed to ensure federal land wasn’t ruined by too many ranchers letting their animals graze. There is no legal right to access to the property.”
“Historically, ranchers would let their cattle graze on public land, and the government didn’t stop them. Back in the 1930s, however, the land was being harmed by all the uncontrolled grazing. So laws were passed to create a permit process to control the amount of grazing. There is no ‘right’ to use public land for one’s personal gain,” he added. “If that were the case, I would start drilling for oil in Yosemite National Park.”
Hudia said the few legal routes Bundy could have taken probably wouldn’t have helped him in his quest to use federal property for free.
“His legal recourse was to appeal the denial of his permit, but he has done that, and lost. He didn’t have much of a chance because the permit process is largely at the discretion of the Bureau of Land Management, and courts won’t overturn their permit decision without very strong evidence,” Hudia said. “Most of the time the courts will defer to the Bureau.”
Meanwhile, the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association said in a statement earlier this week that it would not side with Bundy against federal officials.
Though “sensitive and concerned how the Bundy cattle confiscation situation has evolved,” the statement said, the group is entirely uninterested in inserting itself into the fight between the U.S. government and Bundy.
“Nevada Cattlemen’s Association does not feel it is in our best interest to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter,” the group’s statement said.
Federal agents have so far confiscated 352 of Bundy’s estimated 900 “trespass cattle.”
The Bundy family claims federal agents have also “surrounded” their ranch with snipers and have deployed heavy-duty military-grade weapons to the area. None of these claims have been confirmed by secondary sources. A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management would only say that security personnel have been called on to ensure the safety of federal employees and contractors.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, weighed in on the issue for the first time Tuesday, saying he was “disturbed” by the First Amendment zone established by federal officials to prevent protesters from spreading out all over the closed-off 600,000-acre Gold Butte area, which he said “tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.”
“To that end, I have advised the BLM that such conduct is offensive to me and countless others and that the ‘First Amendment Area’ should be dismantled immediately,” Sandoval said. “No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans. The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.”
A spokeswoman for the governor declined to comment to TheBlaze Wednesday on whether he plans to intervene directly or would continue to monitor the situation.
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This post has been updated.