Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid weighed in on the Nevada ranch standoff, warning that even though federal agents retreated over the weekend, “it’s not over.”
Mr. Reid’s remarks Monday appeared to be his first public comments since Bureau of Land Management agents touched off a confrontation with demonstrators last week by seizing cattle from the Bundy family ranch in a dispute over grazing fees. The agency, which says Cliven Bundy owes more than $1 million in unpaid fees, backed off Saturday and returned the cattle.
In impromptu remarks Monday after a speech at the University of Nevada, Reno, however, Mr. Reid struck a defiant tone on the matter of lawbreaking.
“We can’t have an American people that violate the law and just walk away from it,” Mr. Reid told Reno TV station KRNV. “So it’s not over.”
That feeling was shared, albeit from the opposite direction, by some of the hundreds of protesters from across the West who congregated at the Bundy cattle ranch near Mesquite, Nev.
Many of them remained Monday at the property, despite pleas from federal and state officials to disband and return home.
“I feel sorry for any federal agents that want to come in here and try to push us around or anything like that,” Jarad Miller said in an interview with KRNV-TV. “I really don’t want violence toward them, but if they’re going to come bring violence to us, if that’s the language they want to speak, we’ll learn it.”
Bureau of Land Management agents returned about 400 cattle to the Bundy family over the weekend amid escalating tensions between law enforcement and hundreds of anti-BLM demonstrators outside the ranch.
Mr. Bundy’s son Ammon was struck with a stun gun, and local television footage showed Bundy relatives and supporters engaged in heated arguments with law enforcement officers.
BLM spokesman Craig Leff confirmed Monday that “the gather is over” after telling reporters over the weekend that the bureau will “continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially.”
Speculation on Mr. Reid’s role in last week’s confrontation at the ranch has been rife, given his prominent position as Nevada’s elder statesman and his ties to BLM director Neil Kornze.
Mr. Kornze, 35, served for eight years on the Senate leader’s staff before joining the BLM in 2011. He was the Mr. Reid’s pick to head the agency, and his final confirmation was April 8 as the roundup at the Bundy ranch was underway.
In an updated statement Saturday, Mr. Kornze said the cattle gather was halted “because of our grave concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”
Mr. Reid also has been accused of attempting to shut down the ranch in order to move ahead with two nearby solar energy projects, an accusation denied Monday by the senator’s press aide.
Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman told KLAS-TV in Las Vegas that “there is no truth to the conspiracy theories that are being pushed by right-wing media outlets.”
Mr. Reid’s son Rory Reid, a former Clark County commissioner, represented ENN Mojave Energy, a Chinese-backed company seeking to build a $5 billion solar plant near Laughlin, Nev. The company ultimately dropped those plans after failing to secure sufficient financial backing, according to reports.
That project was more than 100 miles from the Bundy Ranch, Ms. Orthman said.
A separate solar project, involving a local Indian tribe, that Mr. Reid has pushed also does not overlap with the Bundy ranch.
“[Harry] Reid’s push for solar energy development in southern Nevada included attendance last month at a groundbreaking ceremony for a solar power facility that involves the Moapa Band of Pauites and First Solar Inc.,” said the KLAS-TV report. “But that 250-megawatt power plant will be roughly 35 miles southwest of the Bundy ranch.”
The BLM cattle roundup began after a 21-year-old court battle between the agency and Mr. Bundy, who has refused to pay federal grazing fees over a dispute about whether the federal government has sovereignty over his land.
Mr. Bundy has said he pays grazing fees to Clark County, Nev., as he has since before the BLM took over management of the lands. The Bundy family has maintained a cattle ranching operation on the southern Nevada property since the 1870s.
“We are so so grateful for the overwhelming show of support. It is clear freedom loving Americans still exist!” said a Monday post on the Bundy Ranch website.
He told Las Vegas radio station KDWN-AM that the demonstrators backing him “have faith in the Constitution.”
“The Founding Fathers didn’t create a government like this,” he said.
The Bundys also have refused to scale back their cattle operation in reaction to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of the desert tortoise as “threatened (similarity of appearance)” in 1990. The Bundy operation is reportedly now the only operating cattle ranch in the area as a result of enforcement efforts aimed at protecting the desert tortoise.
In August, however, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Las Vegas announced that it would begin euthanizing half of the 1,400 tortoises in its 220-acre facility as a result of federal budget cuts, according to The Associated Press.
“The Center is scheduled to close in December 2014 due to funding issues,” said a statement on the BLM’s website. “All healthy tortoises at the Center will be relocated to sites that will support the recovery of the species. Healthy tortoises will not be euthanized.”