- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management has prompted a national debate over whether the elderly Nevada cattleman is a patriotic freedom fighter or a lawless renegade.

Mr. Bundy owes more than $1 million in back grazing fees, but he contends that the federal government’s rules are increasingly rigged against Westerners who have long made their living off the public lands.

The debate stood in sharp relief this week as conservative commentator Pat Buchanan criticized the BLM for overreacting to an “unpaid bill” while a liberal activist announced that he’s planning to hold a 30-day, rules-free “Bundyfest” across from the ranch in Bunkerville, Nev.

“You don’t send the Seventh Cavalry to collect a bill, and that’s exactly what happened,” Mr. Buchanan told Sean Hannity on his radio show.

Sean Shealy, an organizer of the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada, said the “Bundyfest” event will start Sept. 5 and feature more than 250 bands, Raw Story first reported.

The event appears to blatantly mock the defiant rancher, who has engaged in a long-term battle with the BLM over unpaid federal grazing fees.

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“For years, we paid permitting fees to hold Burning Man on the beautiful Playa in Northern Nevada,” reads the Bundyfest Facebook page. “But now, Cliven Bundy has shown us a NEW WAY! ABSOLUTE FREEDOM! Bundy has declared the entire area surrounding Bundy Ranch as a TOTALLY RULES-FREE ZONE! ANYTHING GOES! WOO-HOO!!!”

Others have called Mr. Bundy everything from a scofflaw to a deadbeat, saying he lost his battle in court and needs to pay his bill or get out.

Meanwhile, Bundy supporters have accused federal agents of playing fast and loose with the rules, pointing to the BLM’s decision to shoot and kill six of the rancher’s cattle after rounding them up last week.

“I’d like to know what gives our federal government the right to poach cattle and murder livestock,” Todd Starnes wrote in a post on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page. “Last week Senator Harry Reid accused those who support Mr. Bundy of being domestic terrorists. I wonder what the senator calls a bunch of government agents waging jihad against a herd of cattle?”

Mr. Reid has called the hundreds of Bundy supporters who camped out at the ranch last week “domestic terrorists,” while Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, on Friday called for Senate hearings into the clash between federal agents and Bundy supporters.

“What Senator Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots,” Mr. Heller said on KSNV-TV in Las Vegas.

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BLM spokesman Jeff Krauss said in a statement Tuesday that the Bundy cattle were euthanized because they were either injured or dangerous. Federal agents rounded up about 400 cattle before returning them in response to safety concerns stemming from heated public protests at the ranch.

“The Bundy branded bull that was euthanized posed a significant threat to employees during the gather,” said Mr. Krauss in an email. “The Bundy branded cow ran into a fence panel injuring its spine and was euthanized. The report of two cattle euthanized referred only to the Bundy branded cattle.”

A Sunday post on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page said that “this is beyond cattle and it is overall about freedom.”

“This is one of many incidents where the corrupt and unjust government is taking away OUR freedom little by little,” said the Monday post. “The running to death of cattle and the shooting of cattle to allegedly save the tortoise is justified?”

• Jessica Chasmar can be reached at jchasmar@washingtontimes.com.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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