At a campaign stop in Nevada on Monday, Kentucky Senator and Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul called for the federal government to sell off and privatize America’s national forests and other public lands.
As part of his “Stand With Rand” tour, Sen. Paul told an audience in the Nevada town of Mesquite that the federal government is a “bully” and that national public lands should be under state and private control, as reported by CNN.
“You run into problems now with the federal government being, you know, this bully — this big huge government bully,” Paul said. “You would have less of that if you had more local ownership of the land. State ownership would be better, but even better would be private ownership.”
A notable guest in the audience was outlaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who infamously refused to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees owed to taxpayers, resulting in a dangerous standoff in April 2014 with federal land management officials. Bundy is also widely known for his racist views, anti-government ideology and refusal to acknowledge the authority of the federal government, in particular over public lands.
Following his speech, Sen. Paul had a 45 private minute meeting with Cliven Bundy and his family focused primarily on public lands and states’ rights.
“In general, I think we’re in tune with each other,” Bundy told the Associated Press of Paul. “I don’t think we need to ask Washington, D.C. for this land. It’s our land.”
Since he gained national media attention for his standoff with federal officials and subsequent racist comments, Bundy has helped fuel the extremist movement to discard America’s public lands in Nevada. In April, Bundy and his supporters rallied around legislation known as the “Bundy Bill,” which would have authorized the state of Nevada to seize the public lands within its borders, prohibited any use without the state’s permission, and given county commissioners authority to sell off public lands.
Although legal experts agree that the “Bundy Bill” and similar legislative proposals are unconstitutional, efforts to seize and sell off America’s public lands have been introduced in ten other western states in addition to Nevada. With significant support from the oil and gas industry and Koch-backed organizations, other Republican members of Congress and 2016 contenders, including Ted Cruz, have also echoed Bundy’s rhetoric.
Monday’s speech is not the first time that Paul has been supportive of Bundy and called for state and private ownership of America’s public lands. Last year, Paul criticized the Department of the interior’s response to Bundy’s standoff, saying that he agreed that “the states and the individuals in the state should own these lands.”
Right-wing support of Bundy and his allies has continued to grow as well. Utah Governor Herbert recently contributed $10,000 of his own money to support the legal defense of a county commissioner, Phil Lyman, who knowingly broke federal laws by leading an illegal Bundy-endorsed ATV ride through archaeological sites and Native American burial grounds on U.S. public lands. While Bundy has yet to face legal action, Lyman was found guilty in May and owes more than $40,000 in legal expenses.
As Bundy continues to become an icon of the movement to sell off public lands, he still owes American taxpayers more than a million dollars in grazing fees and many are still calling for him and his armed militia to be brought to justice. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said publicly last week that Bundy would be “held accountable.”
“The safety of our law enforcement officers and the safety of people that represent land managers at every level is of paramount importance to me,” Secretary Jewell told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I am confident this issue is going to be appropriately resolved.”
Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.