Will Lawlessness Spreading From Bundy’s Ranch Spark The Next Showdown?

Terrance Heath

The cameras have gone, and America’s attention has turned elsewhere, but Cliven Bundy and his supporters are trying  to provoke a showdown with the federal government. Lawlessness is spreading from Bundy’s ranch like a cancer.

Itching For A Fight

The armed “militiamen” camped out at Cliven Bundy’s ranch may be getting desperate, in more ways than one. The Bundys are feeding them, but after more than a month away from any jobs they might have the “militiamen” are broke. One ranch defender, Christopher E. Ferrell, has posted an appeal for funds to continue his extended vacation at Bundy’s ranch.

The so-called “patriots” have no intention of returning home to their jobs and families. They’re trying hard to turn last month’s standoff with Bureau of Land Management agents into a national movement. Many people in the nearby town of Bunkerville are worried that the “militiamen” are a danger to the community — and with good reason.

An encampment of armed, paranoid extremists at the edge of town, with nothing better to do than look for a fight, is a recipe for disaster. Bundy’s “militiamen” harassed residents by setting up “checkpoints” and demanding proof of residence before allowing drivers to proceed. They’ve intimidated members of the community, and even turned their guns on each other. Now, their lawlessness is expanding beyond Bundy’s ranch.

“You Need To Die”

The BLM denied Bundy and his supporters the Waco-esque conflagration or Ruby Ridge-style shootout they were aiming for last month. Now, Bundy’s militiamen are going out of their way to start a conflict they believe will unite the country behind them.

This week, a BLM wrangler in Utah was threatened by two armed men. The incident happened on Tuesday, at 11:00 am, on Interstate 15, about 90 miles south of Salt Lake City, and 260 miles from Bundy’s ranch. The wrangler told the Salt Lake City Tribune that he was pulling a load of horses and burros, when he encountered a blue Dodge 1500 pick-up with an extended cab. Two men in the truck “told him he was No. 1 with that certain gesture,” according to Utah BLM supervisor Eric Reid.

In 2007, the Bureau of Land Management closed  a 14-mile section of trail in Recapture Canyon to motor vehicles, after discovering an illegally-constructed ATV trail cutting though the ancestral ruins. A BLM report found that “unauthorized ATV activity has permanently and significantly diminished the cultural heritage value of the archaeological resources at these sites to Native Americans and the American public as a whole . . .” Recapture Canyon remains open to hikers and horseback riders. More than 2,800 miles of trails remain open on public lands in the surrounding area.

San Juan County officials  have requested the reopening of the illegal trail, and filed for a formal right of way, citing the economic benefit if the ancient sites became a source of income to the area. County commissioner Phil Lyman, who led the protest doesn’t believe the federal government has the right to protect cultural resources.

Bundy’s “freedom” riders — armed to the teeth, and astride as many as 60 ATVs — literally rode roughshod over Native American history. The illegal trail bisected an ancient village the size of a football field, and threatened several Native American burial grounds.

The Next Showdown

As with the standoff at Bundy’s ranch, the BLM decided to avoid violent conflict with Bundy’s heavily armed supporters, and took no direct action to stop the protest ride, despite warning riders to stay out. However, the agency warned that there will be consequences for those who ignored the law. Utah BLM director Juan Palma has promised that his agency “will seek all appropriate civil and criminal penalties against anyone who uses a motorized vehicle within the closed area.” Utah authorities are also looking for the truck involved in the I-15 incident, and the men who pointed a gun at a BLM wrangler.

Meanwhile, FBI officials have begun interviewing Clark County sheriff’s officials in a formal investigation in to “alleged death threats, intimidation, and possible weapons violations.” The FBI is investigating last month’s standoff, during Bundy’s supporters pointed guns at sheriff’s officials and federal officers.

Pointing a gun at a federal officer constitutes assault against an officer; a crime that can carry sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  State, local, and federal officials have made it clear that there will be consequences for the lawlessness of Bundy’s supporters.

It’s only a matter of time before arrest warrants are issued for some Bundy supporters. Will they resist arrest? Most likely. Will their willingness to use violence then lead to their longed-for shootout with federal government agents? Probably.

And then? The only thing certain is that this is far from over.

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