Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has gained a new set of allies in his fight against the federal government.
After signing paperwork to join Nevada’s Independent American Party (IAP), Bundy made the case to a Friday night gathering of IAP supporters in Las Vegas that Western states and counties should assert authority and control over all federal lands within their boundaries, including national parks, national forests, and other federally-managed public lands.
“How can you want to take some of it and not all of it?,” asked Bundy of political efforts in eight Western states to seize control over federal lands. “Does our Constitution say we’re supposed to have any Forest Service or Park Service or whatever?”
The Nevada rancher’s refusal to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees owed to U.S. taxpayers spurred a dangerous standoff between armed militia members and federal law enforcement officials on April 12.
Though many of Bundy’s early supporters distanced themselves from the rancher after he revealed his racist views on April 23, a network of right-wing politicians still share Bundy’s views about the federal government and public lands.
“The reason I’m excited to be here tonight is because Cliven Bundy is my hero,” said Janine Hansen, a candidate for Congress from Nevada’s 2nd congressional district who was among the speakers honoring Bundy at Friday’s IAP event. The American Independent Party of Nevada is the state affiliate of the far-right Constitution Party — the same party that former U.S. Rep Tom Tancredo ran under during his ill-fated bid to become governor of Colorado. Hansen’s candidacy appears to be supported by the American Lands Council, an organization led by Utah state representative Ken Ivory that advocates for the seizure of federal land by Western states.
“We cannot allow this incredible opportunity that Cliven has given us to die,” Hansen said. She described legislation that the Nevada State Legislature was considering that aimed to “transfer” federal land to Nevada. “It’s time that we are not longer serfs on the land in the State of Nevada. It is time that we become sovereign in our own state, our own sovereign state. It is long past time. We are not the servants of the BLM.” She continued:
We will not have an America to give to our grandchildren unless we do like Cliven has done, and we stand with courage. And that is our challenge. It doesn’t matter anymore what our neighbors think, or what the polls say, but unless we start voting and acting and doing in a way that will make a difference for future generations, we are going to lose. But the one wonderful thing we saw when Cliven stood is that the people in America now understand that if they don’t stand, they may not lose their land, but they’ll lose everything else. They may not have any land to lose, with the people that are in charge, but we are losing all of our rights, every day.
Similarly, in Montana, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Champ Edmunds told the Billings Gazette: “It’s time to return these [federal] lands to Montana so that we can manage our forests, protect private property, implement responsible and sustainable harvest programs, and reap the economic benefits that come from well-managed lands.”
Hansen and Edmunds, however, aren’t the only conservative politicians who share Bundy’s views about public lands.
A recent review by the Center for American Progress Action Fund found that 15 sitting Members of Congress have views about public lands that are similar to Bundy’s.
While only some of these Members, including U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), have encouraged defiance of federal law on public lands, all 15 have “either endorsed state efforts to seize federal lands or have themselves led efforts in Congress to sell off more than 3 million acres of federal lands to the highest bidder seized by the states or sold off to the highest bidder.”
In addition to Pearce and Heller, the 13 other Members of Congress the CAP Action report identifies as “Bundy’s Buddies” include Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA).
A new website launched by the Center for Western Priorities, BundysBuddies.org, is also collecting and publishing information about the local, state, and federal elected officials who share Bundy’s views about public lands.
Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.