Range showdown draws armed supporters to Nevada

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - To self-described militia members sleeping in wind-whipped tents, drinking camp coffee and patrolling rocky hillsides with military-style weapons, protecting Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his family from an overreaching federal government is a patriotic duty.

“There are people out here who will sacrifice their lives and their fortunes and their sacred honor to defend them,” said Jerry DeLemus, a camouflaged former U.S. Marine sergeant from New Hampshire who called himself the leader of a Bundy security force of some 40 people.

“If someone points a gun at me, I’ll definitely point my gun back,” he said.

The armed campers are still guarding Bundy’s melon farm and cattle ranch a week after a tense standoff between gun-toting states’ rights advocates and federal Bureau of Land Management police over a roundup of Bundy cattle from public rangeland.

The BLM backed off, citing safety concerns. They were faced with military-style AR-15 and AK-47 weapons trained on them from a picket line of citizen soldiers on an Interstate 15 overpass, with dozens of woman and children in the possible crossfire.

BLM police released the 380 cattle collected, gave up the weeklong roundup and lifted a closure of a vast range half the size of the state Delaware. The agency said it would resolve the matter “administratively and judicially.”

Left unresolved was the government’s claim that Bundy owes more than $1.1 million in fees and penalties for letting some 900 cows trespass for 20 years on arid rangeland of scrub brush, mesquite, cheat grass and yucca near the rustic town of Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Bundy backers claimed victory.

“We won the battle of Bunkerville,” said retiree Bevalyn Marshall, 53, who heads home at night to nearby Scenic, Ariz., but returns by day with her shotgun and her Vietnam veteran husband to a makeshift stage lined with fluttering flags.

It’s a place where conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s voice spills out of travel trailers, and a woman waves a sign at passing traffic reading, “Come Stand With Us For Freedom.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Bundy’s supporters “domestic terrorists” and said a federal task force was being formed to deal with the unrest. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., told a KSNV-TV interviewer on Friday: “What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots.”

Where Heller saw Boy Scouts, veterans and grandparents cordoned off by federal agents, Reid saw a crowd of 600, including men armed with automatic weapons in sniper positions on the freeway overpass, and women and children facing BLM agents in the riverbed below.

Bundy, the 67-year-old patriarch of a Mormon family with more than 50 grandchildren, seems to enjoy the attention. He met the media this week flanked by personal guards headed by a man who called himself Buddha Cavalier.

Bundy took to the stage fashioned from a flatbed trailer to tell reporters he wants sheriffs around the country to seize weapons from federal bureaucrats. He invited everyone to a Friday barbecue at the Virgin River, and rode a horse waving an American flag for photographers.

Then he headed to a Fox News trailer for an interview with conservative TV commentator Sean Hannity.

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