The patriarch of the Bundy clan, whose sons staged the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, has been laughed out of court by a Nevada judge who called the rancher’s claims about federal lands “simply delusional” and “fundamentally flawed.”
Cliven Bundy is an infamous (his fans might say “iconic”) Nevada rancher, who has long grazed his cattle on federal lands without a permit, while railing against the overreach of the U.S. government. For decades, Bundy has waged a fruitless fight to have federal lands in Nevada, including the area his cattle graze, declared instead to be the property of the state.
His family’s battle with the feds, over at least $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, escalated into an armed standoff in 2014, from which the Obama administration ultimately backed down, avoiding violence. But Cliven Bundy was arrested in February 2016 in Portland, Oregon, where he’d flown seeking to visit with his jailed sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, after the conclusion of the Malheur standoff, itself a protest of federal government overreach.
Ironically, the feds fouled up the criminal case against the Bundys because of government overreach. In the case stemming from the Nevada standoff, a federal judge in Las Vegas declared a mistrial in 2017 citing misconduct by prosecutors, and the charges against the family were dismissed, with prejudice, in 2018. (Ammon and Ryan Bundy were also found not guilty in a federal court in Oregon of charges stemming from the Malheur occupation — which ended with one of the occupiers, LaVoy Finicum, being killed by a state trooper.)
By openly flouting federal authority, the Bundys have become heroes to a lose-knit, right-wing movement that includes sovereign citizens, three-percenters, and sundry militia groups that believe the U.S. government has overstepped its constitutional authority. President Trump, appealing to these fringe elements, issued pardons in 2018 for another pair of ranchers, Dwight and Stephen Hammond, who were convicted of arson after setting fire to clear federal lands outside their Oregon ranch. The imprisonment of the Hammonds was the stated justification for the Malheur occupation.
In the case before a Nevada state judge this week, the elder Bundy, 72, had renewed his claims that the federal government does not, in fact, own the vast swaths of Nevada land it holds title to. Judge Jim Crockett was not impressed: “It is painfully obvious,” Crockett wrote, that the rancher’s claims “rest upon a fundamentally flawed notion advanced by Bundy since 1998.” The judge underscored that “three federal court decisions — Bundy I, Bundy II and Bundy Ill — have now considered and rejected Bundy’s repeated arguments.”
Crockett concluded with gusto: “It is simply delusional to maintain that all public land within the boundaries of Nevada belongs to the State of Nevada.” Addressing another dubious Bundy claim, brought under a provision of state law that has been repudiated by Nevada, the judge wrote plainly: “The Nevada legislature lacks authority to unilaterally revoke federal ownership of public lands in Nevada.”
Crockett concluded his eight-page ruling by tossing Bundy’s case — and ruling in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity, which had intervened in the matter. “The judge was being kind to call these claims delusional,” said the environmental group’s executive director, Kierán Suckling. “Hopefully this unequivocal ruling will encourage Bundy to finally pay his grazing fees and bring this nonsense to a close,” Suckling said, though he added: “I’m not holding my breath.”
A message seeking comment from Bundy was not immediately returned.