LAS VEGAS (CBS LAS VEGAS/AP) — The rural Nevada showdown between federal government officials and militia members protecting rancher Cliven Bundy has evolved into a battle of government “tyranny,” with many newly arriving militiamen rolling in to draw a line in the dirt about 70 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Many with camouflage clothing and burly beards, the militiamen coming from as far as Montana are being welcomed by Bundy’s local family and friends who have already set up camp on the sun-scorched plot of land to protest the Bureau of Land Management’s controlling of the 150 miles of desert where Bundy says his family has ranched for decades – long before the BLM was created.
“They’re here to protect Cliven’s family and home,” Lynn Brown, one of Bundy’s daughters, told the Las Vegas Sun.
Tensions boiled over earlier this week, with a series of online videos showing agents using stun guns, German Shepherds, and reports that agents knocked one of Bundy’s daughters to the ground in attacks some are labeling “brutal.”
The standoff has mobilized Operation Mutual Aid, a national militia that draws members from California to Missouri, to “set up camp” to defend the property from what they say is a fight for freedom.
“This is a better education than being in school! I’m glad I brought you. I’m a good mom,” Ilona Ence, a 49-year-old mother from St. George and Bundy relative who brought her four teenage children to the ranch, told the Las Vegas Sun. “They’re learning about the Constitution.”
Ence’s teenage sons posted up a sign on the land voicing their opinion of what the federal government officials should be doing: “CONTROL OUR BORDERS! NOT OUR RANCHERS!”
Other protesters set up “Free Speech Zones” near the closed-off federal land. Another sign reads, “TYRANNY IS ALIVE” and “WHERE’S THE JUSTICE?”
Images of the forced cattle roundup on a rural Nevada range have sent ripples through the West, prompting elected officials in several states to weigh in, militia members to mobilize and federal land managers to reshape elements of the operation. Videos posted to YouTube and various conservative media outlets are equating the event to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Tex. that left 76 dead in 1993.
Bureau of Land Management officials dismantled designated protest areas as the fight over Cliven Bundy’s cattle widened into a debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy. Federal officials say Bundy has racked up more than $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees over the years while disregarding several court orders to remove his animals.
Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore said Friday that people are standing up for important land rights.
The Republican from Las Vegas says she’s horrified that BLM police used stun guns on one of Bundy’s sons during a Wednesday confrontation on a state highway.
Several Republican lawmakers from Arizona say they plan to travel to the site to protest what they call government heavy-handedness.
— Benjamin Fearnow