Defiant Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy received some key but qualified support in his still-unresolved standoff with the Obama administration.
Libertarian icons ex-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and his son, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, both came out with critical comments on the federal government’s handling of the land dispute, while the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association broke its silence on the dispute Wednesday with harsh words of its own for the feds.
The NCA’s careful statement noted the group “does not condone actions that are outside the law, in which citizens take the law into their own hands,” but it noted that Mr. Bundy and his family were provoked by the policy of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“Ranchers such as Mr. Bundy have found themselves with their backs against the wall as, increasingly, federal regulations have infringed on their public land grazing rights and the multiple-use management principle,” the association said. “This is not only devastating to individual ranching families; it is also causing rural communities in the West to wither on the vine.”
The senior Mr. Paul also criticized what he said was overkill in the armed confrontation that nearly led to violence before the BLM stood down over the weekend.
“They may come back with a lot more force, like they did at Waco with the Davidians,” the senior Mr. Paul said on Fox News, referencing the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Texas that left nearly 100 people dead.
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His son, Rand Paul, became one of the first of the 2016 contenders to weigh in on the dispute, criticizing the heavy federal enforcement array in the confrontation.
“The federal government shouldn’t violate the law, nor should we have 48 federal agencies carrying weapons and having SWAT teams,” Mr. Paul said on a Kentucky radio station.
The younger Mr. Paul also appealed for the Bundy family, which does not recognize the federal government’s jurisdiction over the disputed lands, to seek redress nonviolently.
“I hope it’ll go through a court,” he said “But if it were in a court, I would be siding and wanting to say that, look, the states and the individuals in the state should own these lands.”
The dispute between Mr. Bundy and the federal government revolves around grazing rights for a herd of cattle. Mr. Bundy contends he owns the land the cattle graze on and that it has been in his family for generations. But the government disputes his ownership claim, and won a court judgment that he owes nearly $1 million in grazing fees and taxes.
Armed federal law enforcement personnel surrounded the ranch, while armed militias joined with Mr. Bundy. After a few days, the government withdrew to prevent a direct conflict, Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department officials said.
Friends of the Bundy family said they found damage to Mr. Bundy’s property and livestock once federal personnel withdrew.
“They had total control of this land for one week, and look at the destruction they did in one week,” Corey Houston, a friend of the rancher, told Fox News.
Mr. Houston charged that the federal government left the territory in disarray, including destroyed water lines, holes in fences, and several dead cattle.
“So why would you trust somebody like that?” he said. “And how does that show that they’re a better steward?”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, fanned the controversy this week when he said Mr. Bundy should face justice for breaking the law.
“It’s not over,” Mr. Reid said after the BLM’s withdrawal. “We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”