Government officials from the federal Bureau of Land Management attempted to seize cattle from a Nevada farmer over the weekend, arguing that the farmer, Cliven Bundy, owed money to the government for grazing his cattle on public land. On Saturday, the week-long dispute ended with a four-hour standoff between the bureau and nearly 1,000 of Bundy’s supporters, some armed.

The dispute began in 1993, when Bundy’s allotment of land for grazing cattle was altered to include some environmental protections. Bundy did not accept the change and continued to use the land anyway without paying grazing fees. In 1998, a judged order that Bundy remove the cattle and pay trespassing damages—Bundy did not comply. In 2013, a judge authorized the government to impound the approximately 900 cattle, located on the ranch about 80 miles from Las Vegas.

Protester Eric Parker from central Idaho aims his weapon
from a bridge next to the Bureau of Land Management's
base camp (Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

The dispute escalated last week as officials attempted to seize cattle. Last Sunday, Bundy posted on his ranch’s website, “They have my cattle and now they have one of my boys. Range War begins tomorrow.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, on Wednesday, “One protester drove an all-terrain vehicle into a BLM truck, the agencies said, and others surrounded the truck.” One protester was shot with a stun gun.

All of this culminated in a four-hour standoff on Saturday that temporarily shut down Interstate 15 on Saturday. The Guardian describes the scene:

The heavily armed crowd rallied under a banner that read “Liberty Freedom For God We Stand”. Camouflaged militiamen stood at attention, communicating with earpieces. Most had signs, many of which chided “government thugs”.

Some demonstrators were armed and others were on horseback. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

So after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the National Anthem and saying a few prayers, protesters took matters into their own hands and mobilized in an attempt to free them. They were kept at bay by sheriff’s deputies and an array of federal agents in what turned into a tense standoff. One person said officers used bullhorns to tell marchers to keep away or they’d be shot.

The government officials eventually stopped stopped seizing cattle, citing safety concerns, and Bundy said that he recovered 350 cows from the bureau’s holding cells.

Bundy says that his family has been raising cattle since the late 19th century, and does not recognize federal authority on the land he says belongs to the state of Nevada.