The standoff between Cliven Bundy and hundreds of armed federal agents intensified on Friday as civilian militia members arrived to lend their support on behalf of the embattled Nevada rancher.
Several members of militia groups from as far as Texas have begun to trickle into the area, with many among them armed as well, according to reports from media sources at the scene.
The Oath Keepers, an organization consisting of many former and active military personnel that considers itself “Guardians of the Republic,” issued a statement on Thursday supporting Bundy in his bid to stave off actions that have been characterized by some, including Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, as heavy-handed intimidation tactics by the government.
According to the Oath Keepers' official press release:
A delegation of state legislators, led by Washington state Rep. Matt Shea, along with a delegation of current serving sheriffs, led by Sheriff Richard Mack of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and military and police members of Oath Keepers, are converging on the site of a stand-off between federal law enforcement and Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, to prevent bloodshed and to stand in defense of hardworking rural Americans who are under assault by a runaway federal government.
Although it appears that a peaceful resolution is being sought to put an end to the confrontation, others have expressed their willingness to fight the assembled federal forces if it comes to that. A video of an individual apparently issuing a call to arms is now circulating around YouTube. The video shows an assault-style rifle outfitted with a high-capacity magazine, surrounded by other tactical gear, arrayed on the floor, as a voiceover outlines steps to take after arriving on the scene.
Violence threatened to erupt on Wednesday after a shouting match broke out between Bundy family members and supporters after they were confronted by armed US Bureau of Land Management rangers. Several protesters and family members, including a pregnant woman, accused agents of throwing them to the ground and using K-9 dogs to intimidate them. Federal authorities said that they acted after someone kicked a police dog and officers were assaulted.
Protesters claimed a small victory on Thursday when federal authorities dismantled their “free speech zone” at the behest of Gov. Sandoval, who voiced his offense and sharply criticized government attempts at restricting constitutional rights of fellow Nevadans.
“Most disturbing to me is the BLM’s establishment of a ‘First Amendment Area’ that tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the US Constitution,” said Sandoval in a statement. “To that end, I have advised the BLM that such conduct is offensive to me and countless others and that the ‘First Amendment Area’ should be dismantled immediately.”
Despite some coverage of these events by mainstream media, alternative media sources allege that there has been a virtual media blackout concerning what is now actually taking place. There are accusations that agents are killing Bundy's cattle that have been designated so-called “trespass cattle,” and are burying them in a remote section of the area away from media crews. Reports of snipers ringing the Bundy farm with weapons trained on protesters have also surfaced.
However, federal officials tell a different story. According to federal authorities, although they would not deny or confirm the sniper allegations, the show of force is necessary because the contractors and others involved in the operation felt threatened.
The incident began when agents arrived at Bundy's ranch to carry out an order to remove Bundy's cattle from public land claimed by the government as a preserve for the endangered desert tortoise. Bundy is also accused of refusing to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees, accrued over the past 20 years. Bundy contends that he has a right to allow his herd to graze on the land and that he owes the federal government nothing. However, Bundy did agree to make payments to the county for use of the land.