The cascade of legal fallout from the occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is rippling over to Nevada, where participants in the notorious 2014 Bunkerville armed standoff are now feeling the heat. Bunkerville leader Cliven Bundy is behind bars along with his son, Ammon, who spearheaded the Malheur episode.
In the latest development, last Friday Nevada State Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-District 4) dropped word that many more arrests may be on the way, potentially targeting anyone who brought a weapon to the Bunkerville standoff — a figure that could climb into the hundreds.
TriplePundit has been following the exploits of the Bundy clan from a corporate social responsibility angle, since both Cliven and Ammon are business owners who purport to act on community-benefit principles. However, both of these men and dozens of their supporters are behind bars without bail. They are facing serious felony charges as a result of their weaponized protests, and Assemblywoman Fiore, a longtime supporter of the Bundys, certainly has some interesting things to say on that score.
From Burns, Oregon to Bunkerville, Nevada
For those of you new to the topic, back in 2014 Nevada rancher and melon farmer Cliven Bundy came into the national media spotlight when he called upon a gang of armed thugs to help him scare federal agents away from federal land near the town of Bunkerville. The agents were finally trying to get Bundy’s destructive trespass cattle off public land after a 20-year legal battle over refusal to pay grazing fees among other abuses. However, with Bundy’s snipers taking up positions on high ground, the agents were forced to back down.
Bundy argued that his actions where justified, based on an offbeat — and conveniently self-serving — interpretation of the U.S. Constitution in which the federal government has no property rights outside of Washington, D.C.
In taking up that position, Bundy has served as a grassroots champion for the “states rights” legislative agenda of the powerful Koch-funded lobbying organization ALEC, which through its affiliates seeks to transfer federal land to the states in order to intensify resource extraction and development.
Until last month, Cliven Bundy remained free — and his cattle remained on the taxpaying public’s dime — while law enforcement tried to figure out how to reach him without provoking another potentially violent episode.
Meanwhile, this past January, Ammon Bundy gathered his own group of armed thugs at the Malheur refuge in Oregon, near the town of Burns in Harney County. Like his father, he claimed to be acting on behalf of local economic interests, though local stakeholders were almost uniformly opposed to Ammon and his gang.
As things turned out, Malheur was the beginning of the end for Cliven. Ammon and most of his cohorts were eventually arrested and jailed without bail in Oregon. When Ammon issued a jailhouse plea for support, Cliven answered the call. He left his safe space in Nevada and flew to Oregon. The decision to fly assured law enforcement that they could safely arrest Cliven, unarmed and harmless, on arrival at Portland International Airport.
Things have only gone downhill from there. An original indictment for Ammon and two dozen of his followers was superseded last week by a fresh indictment with a raft of new, more serious charges along with more arrests, including several persons involved in the Bunkerville episode.
The Michele Fiore connection
One common denominator in all this is Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. She has been a consistent and vociferous supporter of the Bundys and the “states rights” land privatization movement. Like the Bundys, she is also involved with or supported by groups connected to ALEC.
A number of other public office holders have issued statements in support of the Bundys, but Fiore stands out because she has taken a very active role in their goings-on. She is widely credited, for example, with talking down the last four Malheur holdouts over the phone, resulting in their peaceful surrender.
That seems commendable, and she was praised by pundits on both the left and right for helping to bring the whole mess to a close. However, Oregon Public Broadcasting dropped a bombshell last week in the form of a 90-minute audio recording of a meeting that suggests Fiore helped to breathe new life into the occupation early on.
The meeting was between Harney County officials and members of a Fiore-backed “states rights” group called the Coalition of Western States (COWS), with Fiore patched in by phone. It occurred on Jan. 9, about a week after Ammon Bundy took over the Malheur refuge. At that time, law enforcement noticed signs that the occupation was quickly petering out.
The COWS group included elected officials, and they were advised not to visit Ammon at the refuge for fear of emboldening the group and drawing in more support.
… Finally, over the phone, Fiore tried to turn the meeting into a call to action.
“The BLM has become a bureaucratic agency of – basically – terrorism,” she said. “So at what point do we band together as elected officials, and say, ‘Enough is enough of the BLM’? Can we divert this conversation? At what point are we going to actually do something for our citizens?”
Fiore speaks out
In a video interview posted on YouTube last Friday, Fiore made it clear that she has been, and will continue to be, involved with the Bundys on a very active level.
After his arrest, Ammon Bundy and his supporters have tried to portray the Oregon occupation as a peaceful act of civil disobedience undertaken by “cowboy campers,” and Fiore has also adopted that strategy.
In the interview, she hinted that a national labor union is on board to provide pro bono legal counsel to the Malheur defendants, who she described as “our cowboys” and “political captives.”
According to Fiore, the as-yet-unnamed union is supportive of the Malheur occupation as a legitimate First Amendment protest, similar to stopping traffic. This is how she describes the heavily-armed group that took over and lived in a working facility in a public park for weeks, forcing out the employees, damaging sensitive lands, interfering with conservation work and barring entry to the public:
“… When they saw our cowboys camping in the middle of NOWHERE not arguing or yelling at people and all of a sudden 40 of our cowboys are in jail … “
Fiore claimed that the notoriously litigious lawyer Larry Klayman will represent Cliven Bundy, and at her behest about half of the Malheur defendants have signed documents enabling the unnamed union lawyer to represent them. She used the interview to issue a call for others to help her gather signatures from the other half, portraying the effort as a similar to the union movement:
“I don’t want to say ‘unionizing’ the cowboys but definitely pulling together to make sure that our voices as Americans are not shut down.”
Fiore also defended the COWS group:
“COWS … looks to represent the citizens across the nation, we’re actually enrolling some eastern legislators as well, and we basically fight tyranny … They don’t want any of us pushing back and there’s not enough elected officials turning around and saying enough is enough.”
Near the end of the interview, the host and Fiore discussed word that a new round of “mass” arrests related to the Nevada standoff is immanent, potentially sweeping up “anyone in Bunkerville in 2014.” With the interview as a platform, Fiore advised those persons “absolutely” to not talk to law enforcement without an attorney:
“… A lot of us, we want to be friendly and we want to help because we don’t have an issue with law enforcement, but their intention is to entrap and their intention is not pure so I would highly suggest no-one speak with the FBI or the police without your attorney, because they do not have good intentions at the moment.”
“I just want to make sure that no American allows themselves to be beat down, suppressed, or fear our government, because the moment we fear our government and stop preparing to defend ourselves is the moment of weakness and that’s the moment of conquer so I’m just going to have to say to our fellow Americans out there, is do not fear your government. That’s not the way this is supposed to work. We’re law abiding citizens, and we need to stand our ground.”
More violence on the way?
If that last bit seems to be egging on the situation rather than calming things down, we could be in for a replay of the Oregon pattern in Nevada, with Fiore again helping to strike the spark.
As in Oregon, the Nevada situation appears to be winding down. Cliven Bundy has only been in jail for a few weeks, and his appearance in court no longer draws a throng of supporters.
Andrew Davey of Let’s Talk Nevada visited the Las Vegas court last week to attend Cliven Bundy’s bail hearing, and in a March 18 post he noted that the crowd had thinned considerably:
“Unlike last week, the Bundy family and their supporters didn’t muster all that large of a crowd. There were some protesters outside, but it wasn’t the kind of spectacle we witnessed last week.”
Public interest is waning, even among Bundy’s more passionate supporters, and with good reason. As more charges come down and more details about the Nevada standoff emerge, more of Cliven Bundy’s scofflaw behavior has come to light, described by Davey at last week’s hearing:
“… Judge Hoffman guided the courtroom on a tour of Bundy’s 20-year history of defying federal court orders that was capped by the April 2014 armed insurrection in Bunkerville. ‘I do not believe, Mr. Bundy, you would comply with my court orders any more than you would comply with the other court orders.’ On that note, Judge Hoffman denied Cliven Bundy any sort of release agreement for the duration of his criminal trial.”
Public support or not, Fiore appears determined to fan the flames.
Image credit: Flickr/Gage Skidmore