LAS VEGAS (CBS Las Vegas/AP) — Tensions have escalated between protesters and federal police who used a stun gun on a son of a Nevada rancher fighting a roundup of cattle that he claims have historical grazing rights northeast of Las Vegas.
No serious injuries were reported and no arrests were made, but family members told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that rancher Cliven Bundy’s 57-year-old sister also was knocked to the ground during a confrontation Wednesday involving dozens of protesters and several U.S. Bureau of Land Management rangers.
The son, Ammon Bundy, told the Spectrum of St. George, Utah, that he was hit with stun charges twice.
He acknowledged that he climbed on a dump truck, suspecting that it contained cattle that had been killed during the roundup.
He told KLAS-TV that federal rangers won’t hesitate to attack.
“These are heavily armed individuals with fully automatic weapons,” he told KLAS.
Amy Lueders, Nevada state BLM director, would not discuss details of the incident during a conference call with reporters late Thursday, saying only that it is under investigation.
“Public safety is key to this operation,” Lueders said, who described the episode as a “very isolated incident.”
The incident on State Route 170 followed the arrest Sunday of another Bundy son, Dave Bundy. He was released Monday with a citation accusing him of refusing to disperse and resisting arrest.
A video posted to the Internet showed protesters waving signs and shouting and law enforcement officers holding yellow stun guns with barking dogs straining at leashes near trucks involved in the roundup.
The BLM and the National Park Service have shut down an area half the size of Delaware while hired cowhands using helicopters and vehicles gather about 900 cattle that officials say are trespassing.
Bundy, whose Mormon family settled, farmed and ranched in Bunkerville since the 19th century, claims branded and feral animals on the range are his — and that he has the right to graze his cows on open range.
Lueders blamed Bundy for the events.
“Mr. Bundy is breaking the law and has been breaking the law for the past 20 years,” she said.
“We are engaged in this because of a single individual … who has refused to abide by the law of the land,” Lueders said, adding that Bundy’s actions “do a disservice to the thousands of law abiding ranchers in the West.”
The showdown is seen as a flashpoint in a longstanding battle over state and federal land rights predating the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and ’80s.
The government says the cows are trespassing on arid and fragile habitat of the endangered desert tortoise. They note that Bundy lost federal court cases challenging the roundup and that he was ordered by a federal judge last October not to interfere in any roundup.
Bundy, who represented himself in the court cases, has vowed to do whatever it takes to protect his property. He has characterized the dispute as a “range war.”
Shows of force by heavily armed federal agents and the creation of a protest corral labeled a “First Amendment area” drew complaints this week from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and GOP U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.
The Review-Journal reports that the BLM dismantled the “First Amendment area.”
“Earlier this week, I advised the BLM not to limit or hinder the constitutional rights of Nevadans and be mindful of its conduct. The ability to speak out against government actions is one of the freedoms we all cherish as Americans,” Sandoval told KLAS in a statement. “Today I am asking all individuals who are near the situation to act with restraint. Although tensions remain high, escalation of current events could have negative, long lasting consequences that can be avoided.”
The tactics have also drawn attention from militia members vowing to protect Bundy and his family.
Ryan Payne and Jim Lardy, self-described members of a militia group from Montana, told the Review-Journal that they arrived Tuesday to place themselves as a barrier between tyranny and oppression.
Bearing holstered handguns they said they always wear, Payne, 30, and Lardy, 49, said their goal was for no one to be harmed and for Bundy’s property and rights to be protected.
Stephen Dean, 45, an artist from Utah, said he made the trip with a video camera in hopes of heading off another Ruby Ridge or Waco, referring to deadly confrontations involving federal agents in Idaho in 1992 and in Texas in 1993.
Photographers were on hand when BLM rangers shot Ammon Bundy several times with stun guns and Cliven Bundy’s sister, Margaret Houston, said she was knocked to the ground by a BLM officer.
The Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service released a statement saying the confrontation developed when a protester crashed an all-terrain vehicle into a BLM truck driven by a contractor and protesters converged on the area.
The statement alleged that peaceful protests of the roundup that started Saturday had “crossed into illegal activity,” including blocking vehicles, 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,” it said.
Meanwhile, federal officials reported that 352 cows have been collected. State veterinarian and brand identification officials are expected to determine what becomes of the impounded cattle.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)