In His Own Words: Here’s Why the Nevada Rancher Refuses to Recognize Federal Authority

Cliven Bundy, the last remaining rancher in Clark County, Nev., stands at the center of what has become a national controversy over the private use of federal land. He is focused on one big issue, he said in a radio interview with Glenn Beck on Monday: He doesn’t believe the land belongs to the federal government.

“I think this is very clarifying to people,” Beck said. “Your stance is, ‘I do not recognize these lands to be federal … I am staking out my claim that the United States government does not have any jurisdiction, and any rights to the land that [I am] now grazing on.'”

“That’s right,” Bundy said. “It’s Nevada land.”

Embattled Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, left, and his son Dave Bundy talk to a reporter on the corner of North Las Vegas Boulevard and East Stewart Avenue in downtown Las Vegas Monday, April 7, 2014. The 37-year-old Dave Bundy was taken into custody by federal agents on Sunday afternoon along state Route 170 near Mesquite. He was released Monday after being issued citations for failing to disperse and resisting arrest. The Bureau of Land Management has begun to round up what they call "trespass cattle" that rancher Cliven Bundy has been grazing in the Gold Butte area 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.(AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, K.M. Cannon) AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, K.M. Cannon
Embattled Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, left, and his son Dave Bundy talk to a reporter on the corner of North Las Vegas Boulevard and East Stewart Avenue in downtown Las Vegas Monday, April 7, 2014. (AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal, K.M. Cannon)

Bundy said he has “no contract with the United States government,” and the federal government has “no jurisdiction or authority” on his grazing rights, water rights, access rights, ranch improvement rights or anything else that “belongs to ‘we the people’ of Clark County.”

The rancher took his argument back to the 19th century, when Nevada became a state. According to him, the federal government did, in fact, control the land when Nevada was a territory. But, he claimed, when the territory became a state, the government turned that land over to the sovereignty of the state of Nevada, and thus the federal government lacks the power to control it today.

“At the moment of statehood, what happened?” Bundy asked. “At the moment of statehood the people of the territory become people of the United States with the Constitution, with equal footing to the original 13 states. They had boundaries allowing them a state line. And that boundary was divided into 17 subdivisions, which were counties. Which I live in one of those counties, Clark County, Nevada.”

“As a citizen of that county, I abide by all the state laws,” he concluded.

Though he has grazed his cattle on federal land for decades, Bundy has refused to pay grazing fees since 1993. Last week, the conflict sharply escalated after federal agents arrived in an attempt to round up Bundy’s “trespass cattle,” only to be met by protesters.

The story has taken many turns — including whether Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is involved (it appears he isn’t), and whether the confrontation could escalate to a situation like Ruby Ridge in 1992.

On Saturday, Neil Kornze, the director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, started returning Bundy’s cattle due to the “serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.” Bundy confirmed on Monday the cattle have been returned. But it is unlikely that the controversy will go away quietly, since Bundy is remaining defiant in his position and doesn’t seem eager to pay the decades of grazing fees he still owes.

Beck said “America needs to decide” where it stands on the issue, and he’ll weigh in more on his television program at 5 p.m. ET, and on his radio program Tuesday.

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