Assessing the April standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and armed protesters at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Bunkerville, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie says both sides made serious mistakes that came perilously close to creating a bloodbath.
A heavily armed team of BLM agents showed up at Bundy’s ranch to confiscate about 500 head of cattle the rancher has allowed to graze on federally controlled land without grazing permits for two decades. Bundy reportedly owes more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines.
Bundy has said he does not recognize the federal government’s authority over the land but would work with the state or county governments.
After a video of a confrontation — in which one of Bundy’s sons was stunned with a Taser and others were threatened by attack dogs — went viral on the Internet, hundreds of self-styled militia members and others flocked to the ranch with weapons to stand between the family and federal agents.
Gillespie told the editorial boards of both Las Vegas newspapers that the BLM officials lied to him, ignored his advice and dismissed his warnings.
“This is not the time to do this,” he said he told the BLM, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “They said, ‘We do this all the time. We know what we’re doing. We hear what you’re saying, but we’re moving forward.’”
The sheriff said he was proud of his officers for de-escalating the situation and avoiding bloodshed. He also said he had asked BLM officials to conduct town hall meetings but they ignored him. They also told him they had a place to which they would move Bundy’s cattle, but that wasn’t true.
Eventually BLM let the protesters open the gates of the corral where the rounded-up cattle were held, releasing them back onto the range.
Gillespie said Bundy must be held accountable, but the BLM should re-evaluate its methods. He also said Bundy crossed the line when he allowed armed protesters to camp on his land.
“You’ll have a hard time convincing me that one person’s drop of blood is worth any one of those cows,” he was quoted as saying. He added that he would work with the BLM in any future operation.
"I think if anybody would look at how they (BLM) handled the protesting with the use of Tasers and police dogs, anyone who had been in policing would question those tactics,” he told the Las Vegas Sun. “And I believe that led to the heightened interest and escalating the situation."
BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington told The Associated Press that the agency planned and conducted the roundup in "full coordination" with Gillespie and his officers.
"It is unfortunate that the sheriff is now attempting to rewrite the details of what occurred, including his claims that the BLM did not share accurate information," she was quoted as saying. "The sheriff encouraged the operation and promised to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we enforced two recent federal court orders. …
"Sadly, he backed out of his commitment shortly before the operation — and after months of joint planning — leaving the BLM and the National Park Service to handle the crowd control that the sheriff previously committed to handling.”
The FBI is conducting an investigation into the standoff for possible criminal charges.