Right-wing media are fanning the flames of a conflict between a federal agency and their new hero -- a scofflaw Nevada rancher who's threatening a violent range war against the federal government.
Cliven Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, has been fighting the government over grazing rights on public land for nearly a quarter century. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay government fees required to allow his cattle to exploit public lands. In 1998, the government issued a court order telling Bundy to remove his cows from the land, as part of an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise located there. And in July 2013, a federal court ordered Bundy to get his cattle off public land within 45 days or they would be confiscated. The confiscation began this month, and the cattle will be sold to pay off the $1 million in fees and trespassing fines Bundy owes.
Conservative media have held the confiscation out as a big government invasion of private property rights and have repeatedly hyped the rancher and his family as victims being intimidated by a heavily armed force of federal agents who are escalating the situation into the realm of notorious and deadly standoffs like Ruby Ridge and Waco.
Fox News hosted the rancher on the April 9 edition of Hannity, where Sean Hannity sympathized with Bundy's claims against the government and argued that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer."
Fox & Friends highlighted the situation and complained about the protections for the desert tortoise. Co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition."
Meanwhile, Glenn Beck's TheBlaze.com played up the fact that the federal agents confiscating Bundy's cattle were armed. Alex Jones' Infowars.com posited that the government was attempting to "enslave us in an [United Nations] Agenda 21 future where we have no property and no rights." During an April 9 edition of Jones' conspiracy theory radio show, Jones said of Bundy, "So your bottom line, like Paul Revere, you're making your stand, you're telling folks we're being overrun by an out of control tyranny."
National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and described the government's actions as a "siege." The conservative American Thinker accused Attorney Gen. Eric Holder of enforcing the law against Bundy for racial reasons.
But if anyone is waging a campaign of intimidation, it's Bundy and his family, who have repeatedly threatened violence, invoked revolutionary rhetoric, and issued public statements making known that they own firearms and appear willing to use them.
The rancher told the Las Vegas Sun in 2013 that "he keeps firearms at his ranch" and promised to "do whatever it takes" to defend his cattle from being seized.
"I've got to protect my property," Bundy said as [his son] Arden steered several cattle inside an elongated pen. "If people come to monkey with what's mine, I'll call the county sheriff. If that don't work, I'll gather my friends and kids and we'll try to stop it. I abide by all state laws. But I abide by almost zero federal laws."
Bundy's wife Carol told the Sun that she owns a shotgun and is prepared to use it.
Carol Bundy said her husband is not a violent man, just a person who will protect what he owns. For that matter, so is she.
"I've got a shotgun," she said. "It's loaded and I know how to use it. We're ready to do what we have to do, but we'd rather win this in the court of public opinion."
Grabbing another fistful of bacon, Arden said he wants to be part of any coming battle. His mother smiled.
When conservative radio host Laura Ingraham asked if he would resort to violence to settle the dispute, Bundy said, "I didn't say I wouldn't carry a gun."
On Fox News' Hannity, Bundy implied that the federal government's seizure of his cattle amounted to an infringement on the rights of Nevada and said he'll "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
BUNDY: Well, you know, my cattle is only one issue that the United States courts has ordered that the government can seize my cattle. But what they have done is seized Nevada statehood, Nevada law, Clark County public land, access to the land, and have seized access to all of the other rights of Clark County people that like to go hunting and fishing. They've closed all those things down, and we're here to protest that action. And we are after freedom. We're after liberty.
HANNITY: How far are you willing to go? How far are you willing to take this?
BUNDY: My statement to the American people, I'll do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back.
Appearing on the radio show of conspiracy theorist Pete Santilli, a 9-11 Truther who previously threatened to shoot Hillary Clinton, Bundy repeatedly said the time has come to "make our stand." Discussing his situation's relationship to the deadly Waco and Ruby Ridge standoffs, Bundy said, "I haven't called no militia or anything like that, but hey it looks like that's where we're at":
BUNDY: I told you that I did the legal thing and the political thing and the media thing and it seems like it's down to we the people if we're going to get it done. You know the things like militias. You know, I haven't called no militia or anything like that, but hey it looks like that's where we're at.
We got a strong army here, we have to fight, their [unintelligible] to back off. We don't have our state officials not stepping up and saying no. So until the state people steps up and says no, the county sheriff says no, this thing is going to keep escalating until the point that we are going to have to take our land back and take our rights back and maybe that's the time we are at in life, I don't know, it just seemed like we worked our way all the way to this point, now are we going to back off? Or are we going to take it -- somebody is going to have to back off. If they're not, we the people are going to put our boots down and we are going to walk over these people.
During his appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Bundy said that he tells the government he will "do whatever it takes" to oppose the government and because he "make[s] that statement, they seem to say well this man, he can't stand. We're gonna have to take him down."
Jones and Bundy also discussed a since-delayed plan for the Bureau of Land Management to auction off Bundy's confiscated cattle in Utah to repay his debts to the government. Bundy urged his supporters to "go in there with force" and to stop the auction. Jones said a confrontation at the auction "could be how the shot heard round the world happens in this case" and warned that "this could turn into 1776 very quickly," garnering Bundy's agreement:
JONES: This could be how the shot heard round the world happens in this case or others that are happening. If they ever fire on innocent peaceful people trying to take stolen cattle and act like the mercenaries they are, this could turn into 1776 very quickly.
BUNDY: Yeah, and we're totally disgusted with this type of government and I don't think we the people are going to stand it, and I'm not going to stand it, I'm going to stand as long as it takes and do whatever it takes to get this --
JONES: Incredible, well we will get updates in the next few days, sir, to find out what unfolds.
Bundy may not have "called" any militia, but militias around the country are mobilizing to support him. And while the potential for violence continues to escalate, right-wing media keep egging him on.