Cliven Bundy: Oregon ranchers at center of armed occupation ‘failed’ supporters in flagging states’ rights movement

(Erin Alberty |The Salt Lake Tribune) Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy speaks at the Independent American Party convention on June 8, 2019, at Juab High School in Nephi.

Nephi • There wasn’t a big crowd for Cliven Bundy to rally to his cause Saturday in Nephi, where he lamented what he described as a softening states’ rights movement in the American West.

“What’s wrong is, we forgot the Constitution again,” he told just more than a dozen members of the conservative Independent American Party, which held its annual convention at Juab High School.

Bundy said even the most strident critics of federal land management have become complicit in what he called government overreach.

To buttress his point, he asked the crowd how they felt about President Donald Trump’s pardon last year of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. In 2016, Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy, and dozens of others occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the Hammond ranch in southeastern Oregon, to protest the Hammonds’ five-year prison sentences for setting fires on public lands.

During the armed occupation, which lasted for more than a month, Ammon Bundy was arrested, and rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot to death by Oregon State Police.

“Were you happy when the Hammonds was pardoned and released from jail? How many of you were happy about that?” Cliven Bundy asked the convention audience on Saturday. Hands shot up.

“Now I want to know, how many was happy that the [Bureau of Land Management] granted the Hammonds their grazing permit?” he asked, referring to the Trump administration’s renewal this year of the Hammonds’ grazing permits, which previously were rejected because of the Hammonds’ criminal history.

The group raised their hands again. “Yeah, of course!” one man said.

Bundy admonished the cheerful murmurs in the crowd.

“The Bundys thought that was the worst thing, the terriblest thing, that could happen for the Hammonds,” he told the confused audience.

By accepting the grazing permits, Bundy said, the Hammonds conceded that federal land managers had the right to limit grazing in the first place. Bundy said he wished they had done as he has, and refused to pay grazing fees altogether — a tactic that led to an armed standoff near his Bunkerville, Nev., ranch when BLM officers tried to seize his cattle in 2014. He spent 23 months in jail before a federal judge threw out the case last year.

“Here [the] Hammonds has spent most of their life fighting the government. Trump pardons 'em, and brings 'em home,” Bundy said. “Hammonds had their property back, they have all their rights, everything was given back to them. And then what do they do? They go down and sign a contract with the BLM. ... Who controls the rights now? The federal government controls them.”

After the Hammonds gave legitimacy to federal land control by accepting the grazing permits, Bundy said, they lost their grazing access again; this week a federal judge blocked the Hammonds’ grazing permits while a lawsuit by environmental groups is pending.

“Why was LaVoy killed? Why did my son spend 700 days in jail?” Bundy said. “Why have we suffered all these years if we don’t have sense enough, when we’ve got a clean slate, to talk about property rights? You guys are just happy that Hammonds got their grazing rights back. Now guess what? They’re under a contract with the federal government. ... The environmental people are suing the BLM for allowing the Hammonds to graze ... And then everyone is praising [Trump] because the government gave them the license back. Isn’t that the hell of a deal?”

“It was a trick!” one women shouted.

The rapid shift in the group’s mood toward the Trump administration’s actions toward the Hammonds signals both the party’s frustration with the Republican party, which many IAP members have belonged to, as well as its devotion to Cliven Bundy, who became a member in 2014.

“Cliven, you’re still my hero,” said party vice chairman Wayne Hill, hugging Bundy. Hill, who was unanimously re-elected on Saturday, was the party’s candidate for Utah’s 2nd U.S. Congressional District. He lost to Republican Rep. Chris Stewart.

The party has about 20,000 members statewide, said outgoing party chairman Jason Christensen. He was defeated in a 9-3 vote by David Else.