A gang of armed thugs took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last month with the purported aim of helping the local community assert their "rights" against federal land management, and things quickly went south from there.
After a weeks-long standoff, gang leader and Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy and his brother, Ryan, were arrested and indicted on federal charges along with a score of other supporters, many of whom have been denied bail. That now includes Cliven Bundy, the family patriarch and Nevada rancher who incited an armed gang of his own during a standoff with federal agents back in 2014.
Considering that Ammon Bundy is part of the business community, TriplePundit has been taking a look at the whole Malheur mess from a corporate social responsibility perspective. Now it's time to turn that lens on to Cliven Bundy, who is facing far more serious charges than his sons and their cohorts.
If you followed the Malheur story from its inception, you have probably noticed that journalists struggled to come up with an adequate label to describe these weaponized actors.
Words like "occupiers" and "protesters" barely seem to scrape the surface. In normal conversation, those words generally refer to actions without firearms. In the case of the Bundys, as an apparent compromise, you'll find frequent references to "armed protesters," but even that falls short descriptively.
Ammon Bundy and his gang openly and heavily armed themselves, barricaded themselves inside a working federal facility for six weeks, and dared law enforcement to remove them by force. They claimed to "educate" the local community, but their actions antagonized virtually every local stakeholder group, including local ranchers and local government workers, especially those who worked at the Malheur refuge.
Ammon and his gang also trashed the Malheur headquarters, plowed a new road through historic Paiute tribe lands, and literally left piles of s**t behind.
From a CSR perspective, the Bundys now have some serious damage control on their hands. In public statements and on the Bundy Ranch blog, they've rebranded their actions as "civil disobedience" or even "peaceful" and "educational." That's fair enough if your starting point is an unarmed sit-down, but it's clearly a fabrication in relation to what occurred during the six weeks that the Bundys and their gang spent in and around the Malheur refuge.
The Bundys occupy a sort of constitutional parallel universe, promoted by the Koch-funded lobbying group ALEC, in which the federal government has no authority to manage lands outside of Washington, D.C.
In this universe, the right to openly carry modern weapons is unabridged, the use of those weapons is justified more often than not (see ALEC's promotion of "stand your ground" laws), and the only law enforcement authority recognized by the Constitution is the local county sheriff.
These three elements converged at the Malheur refuge in Oregon, just as they did two years ago when Cliven Bundy called upon an armed gang to help him ward off federal agents in Nevada.
The Cliven standoff was the culmination of a decades-long effort by the rancher to avoid paying the normal -- and exceedingly low -- fees to the federal government for grazing his cattle on public property.
It's important to note that federal agents came to remove privately-owned cattle from public land, not from Cliven's private property. Nevertheless, the threat of extreme violence (the agents were apparently outnumbered 4 to 1) forced the episode to a draw, and Cliven was never called to account for his actions.
So, here is the indictment against Cliven Bundy, from the U.S. Attorney's Office of the District of Nevada. It's almost two years late, but given the alternative of a firefight at the Bundy ranch, the peaceful conclusion appears to be well worth the wait:
Nevada resident Cliven Bundy and four others were indicted by the federal grand jury today on 16 felony charges related to the armed assault against federal law enforcement officers that occurred in the Bunkerville, Nev. area on April 12, 2014.
Cliven D. Bundy, 69, of Bunkerville, Nev., Ryan C. Bundy, 43, of Mesquite, Nev., Ammon E. Bundy, 40, of Emmet, Idaho, Ryan W. Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont., and Peter T. Santilli, Jr., 50, of Cincinnati, Ohio, are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, one count of conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, four counts of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, two counts of assault on a federal officer, two counts of threatening a federal law enforcement officer, three counts of obstruction of the due administration of justice, two counts of interference with interstate commerce by extortion, and one count of interstate travel in aid of extortion.
The indictment also alleges five counts of criminal forfeiture which upon conviction would require forfeiture of property derived from the proceeds of the crimes totaling at least $3 million, as well as the firearms and ammunition possessed and used on April 12, 2014.
... a massive armed assault against federal law enforcement officers...
... the defendants are alleged to have planned, organized and led the assault in order to extort the officers...
... conspiring among themselves to plan and execute these crimes...
... using armed force against law enforcement officers...
... Cliven Bundy was the leader, organizer and chief beneficiary of the conspiracy...
"The rule of law has been reaffirmed with these charges. Persons who use force and violence against federal law enforcement officers who are enforcing court orders, and nearly causing catastrophic loss of life or injury to others, will be brought to justice."
This effort has been plowing forward under the media radar for many years, but the Bundys ham-handedness could finally expose it for what it is: a land grab for private gain.
In that context, it's worth noting that the Bundys and their supporters position themselves as patriotic defenders of the U.S. Constitution, but when it comes time to act, they blissfully ignore their own arguments.
That's particularly true when it comes to the constitutional authority of the county sheriff, which these so-called patriots recognize as the only lawful authority.
We have already noted that the Malheur refuge is located in Harney County, Oregon, where Sheriff David M. Ward repeatedly warned Ammon Bundy, weeks in advance of the Malheur takeover, that his presence in the local community would not be helpful. Ammon ignored that guidance, and continued to ignore Sheriff Ward's repeated appeals for him to leave after the takeover.
Similarly, during the 2014 standoff in Nevada, Cliven Bundy repeatedly ignored the warnings of Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie to keep his actions, and those of his supporters, to a peaceful protest. Sheriff Gillespie has made clear his feelings that federal agents mishandled events leading up to the day of the standoff, but as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he is equally clear that the Bundys are ultimately responsible for their actions:
The sheriff harshly criticized Bundy and said his family committed “serious errors” when BLM officers tried to round up more than 500 of the rancher’s cattle...
Gillespie said he spoke to Bundy many times in the months before the roundup. He said he made it clear to Bundy that, if his family was going to protest, it must be peaceful.
“If you step over that line, there are consequences to those actions. And I believe they stepped over that line. No doubt about it,” Gillespie said. “They need to be held accountable for it.”
It appears that the Bundy approach to ALEC's anti-federalism was a flop, so now it's back to the courts -- and to the state legislators who support the ALEC agenda.
Photo credit: "The Steens rise over the wetlands at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon" by Barbara Wheeler via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, flickr.com.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.