Fact Check – The Bundy Ranch Cattle & The BLM

Bundy Ranch BLM

April 20, 2018 – A Federal jury has resumed deliberations on the Bundy Ranch Standoff Trial

A recent confrontation between federal (BLM) employees and protesters over the attempted confiscation of cattle (on land that originally belonged to Paiute tribes), belonging to rancher Cliven Bundy, that had been grazing on federal land (illegally, going fon 20 years now) has made its way into several news outlets. Conspiracy theorists have described this as an Orwellian takeover (incorrectly describing this as an attempted takeover of the ranch itself) and suppression of civil liberties, along with alleged backroom deals involving Harry Reid and Chinese solar farms. A basic fact check reveals that reality is more benign and less dramatic. Rather than taking the time to learn about and explain the history, structure and legal mandate of the BLM, as well as the multiple court cases Bundy lost and complaints from other locals and environmental groups (often confusing and overlapping) over Bundy’s trespass cattle, many conspiracy theorists have seized this opportunity to portray the BLM as some shadowy organization trampling a rancher’s rights. Conspiracy theorists have tied this to their Agenda 21 conspiracy narrative.

As The Wildlife News writes:

We hope to write more about the history of America’s public lands because the public’s lack of knowledge plays into the hands of political and media manipulators.

A few facts about the Cliven Bundy and the BLM incident

For some time, the Bundy’s have owned cattle that have grazed in the Bunkerville, NV area.  Since his cattle grazed on federal land, he paid grazing fees to the federal government. In 1993, the local grazing rules changed when a number of things came together; the Desert tortoise became protected under the species act, and the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that this was one of the areas critical to their long-term survival. Grazing rules were also changed in order to accommodate restoration needed from years of overgrazing and recent fires. These new rules would include Bundy having to reduce his number of cattle. Refusing to comply, he decided to “fire” the BLM, and stop paying grazing fees, while continuing to use federal lands for his cattle to graze. Not only did he not reduce his cattle count, but actually increased them over time.

As a result, Cliven Bundy’s cattle have been illegally grazing on federal land for 20 years. Over these 20 years, Cliven Bundy has racked up over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and has actually expanded his cattle’s grazing further into federal lands.  He has been taken to court (and defeated) both in 1998 and 2013.

In Case No. 2:12-cv-0804-LDG-GWF, on July 2013, US District Court – District of Nevada Ruled:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Bundy is permanently enjoined from trespassing on the New Trespass Lands.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the United States is entitled to protect the New Trespass Lands against this trespass, and all future trespasses by Bundy.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Bundy shall remove his livestock from the New Trespass Lands within 45 days of the date hereof, and that the United States is entitled to seize and remove to impound any of Bundy’s cattle that remain in trespass after 45 days of the date hereof.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the United States is entitled to seize and remove to impound any of Bundy’s cattle for any future trespasses, provided the United States has provided notice to Bundy under the governing regulations of the United States Department of the Interior.

As a result, the BLM attempted to round up at least some of the 900 cattle illegally grazing on federal land.  And because of his implied threats of “armed resistance” (and the fact that an attempted roundup in 2012 was called off due to veiled threats of violence) and previous intimidation of public employees, they came with protection.  Because it’s often portrayed as such, it bears mentioning that no one was trying to remove Cliven Bundy from his land/home.  No one was  trying to “take his land away.”  After 20 years of Bundy not paying for his cattle’s grazing fees, the BLM was there to remove cattle that were grazing on federal lands near his ranch.

In response, several protesters (including armed militia members) gathered in defense of Bundy. The standoff came to an end when the BLM, citing safety concerns, decided to stand down.  Supporters of Bundy have of  labeled this successful (and armed, as well as potentially violent) defense of Bundy’s illegal activity as a “win for freedom.”

From the BLM website

blm federal land bundy cattle

Is Bundy Constitutionally correct?

Cliven Bundy says he doesn’t recognize the federal ownership of land he believes belongs to Nevada and has stated that “It’s a statement for freedom and liberty and the Constitution.” Of course, at the writing of the Constitution, much American land was in fact owned by the federal government. There is no “Constitutionality” in not recognizing federally-owned land.

Some have gone further and incorrectly argued that the US Constitution guaranteed that future states brought into the union would be granted full control over the territory of their borders. This is not only untrue but the property clause, which states that Congress has the power “to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States” grants the Federal government authority over the public land. This is exactly what the Ninth Circuit decided in United States v. Gardner (107 F.3d 1314 ).  Most of the arguments being made by “Constitutional” proponents of Bundy were denied in the above case (which also took place in Nevada).

For example, Bundy proponents have cited the equality clause which was established in 1783 would indefinitely apply to every future incorporation into the union. However in United States v. Gardner,  the 9th Circuit held that:

The claim by Gardners that it is the duty of the United States to hold public lands in trust for the formation of future states is founded on a case dealing with land acquired by the United States from the thirteen original states….. This decision was based on the terms of the cessions of the land from Virginia and Georgia to the United States. Before becoming a state, however, Nevada had no independent claim to sovereignty, unlike the original thirteen states. Therefore, the same reasoning is not applicable to this case, in which the federal government was the initial owner of the land from which the state of Nevada was later carved.

The same distinction applies to the enclave clause, which Bundy proponents have also invoked.

There is another problem: Until 1993 he did pay the federal grazing fees (signed into law under Ronald Reagan).  So, it would seem that he did recognize the federal government as owning the land–at least up until 1993.  Furthermore, the Nevada Constitution explicitly recognizes federal ownership of this, and other lands within the Nevada territory.  So in effect, Bundy’s claimed allegiance to Nevada State Law is awkward at best since he is, in fact, contradicting it.

The BLM & Public Land vs Bundy Land

In the back-and-forth over states vs federal rights, BLM fees, tortoises, a conspiracy theories about Harry Reid and the Chinese, it’s easy to lose sight of one important fact: this is public land that’s been in use by more than just Cliven Bundy and his cattle. Much of the rhetoric around this subject assumes that this is his land that he and only he (and his predecessors) has used over the years.

But this is public land, in use by animals other than cattle, and other people besides the Bundy family. The now-defunct BLM page explained the numerous complaints including cars running into cattle, a state employee being attacked by a bull, crops being destroyed on private property, and damage to the Mesquite Heritage Community Garden and golf course.

The page also lists the destruction of natural and cultural resources, including crushed artifacts at cultural sites, damage to springs (fecal contamination included), vegetation trampling, etc.

A little digging on the web does reveal local citizens expressing dissatisfaction with Bundy’s cattle.

From Let’s Talk Nevada (Aug. 6, 2013)

Despite having no legal right to do so and in defiance of federal court orders, Bundy has continued to graze his cattle throughout the Gold Butte area without paying a penny to do so for decades, competing with tortoises for food, hindering the restoration of extensive wildfires, trampling rare plants, damaging ancient American Indian cultural sites, and threatening the safety of recreationists. A drive along Gold Butte Road will often require that you dodge trespassing cattle. Surveys by the BLM have found well over 1,000 cattle — many in easily damaged freshwater springs and riparian areas on public lands managed by the National Park Service and State of Nevada as well as the BLM.

Info Wars and other Conspiracy Theorists

infowars bundy ranch reidThe independent media sphere includes a collection of websites/blogs that thrive on the continued perpetuation of fear (usually of the government). Situations like this Bundy cattle dispute are described in Orwellian contexts (in this case, Bundy is made to look like an innocent rancher who the government has decided to come after) with no explanation of the actual context (that Bundy’s cattle have been grazing on federal lands for 20 years, has over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees as a result, and has lost numerous court battles).

Common Conspiracy Myths

“This is a federal land grab of sorts!”

This has been US government property since it was taken from Mexico in 1848, before Nevada was an actual state.

“The Bundy’s have worked and maintained this land since 1877 (or for 130 years)”

As shown above, this has been US government property since before Bundy’s alleged ancestors began settling here.   However, it turns out that Bundy’s “1877” claims were in fact bogus.  An investigation by KLAS-TV Las Vegas reveals that Bundy’s parents moved from Arizona to Nevada and bought the 160-acre ranch in 1948, from its previous owners. The Bundy’s wouldn’t begin using this land for their cattle to graze until the 1950’s.  A recent video released by Bundy’s repeat the erroneous ancestral claim (claiming that the Bundy family owned the land for 130 years) .


Clark County Recorder documents show the 160-acre Bunkerville ranch Bundy calls home was purchased by his parents, David and Bodel Bundy, from Raoul and Ruth Leavitt on Jan. 5, 1948. The purchase included the transfer to the Bundys of certain water rights, including water from the nearby Virgin River. Cliven Bundy was born in 1946.

“Bundy’s great grandfather bought the rights to the Bunkerville allotment back in 1887”

This claim has been repeated numerous times but there appears to be no record of this.  Since the Bunkerville allotment is part of the federal land it is unlikely that any of the Bundy’s would have ever been sold the rights.  This may actually be a conflation of the claimed “pre-emptive” rights, which some have claimed Bundy’s family to have. It would appear that this is nothing more than a subjective belief on the part of the Bundy’s, that their alleged longtime use of federal lands somehow gives them ownership.  Furthermore, given that Bundy lost numerous court battles, it’s unlikely that he, in fact, owns the portion of the land in question.

As an interesting aside, this land originally belonged to the Paiute tribes.

“Cliven Bundy stopped paying because the BLM hiked their rates!!!”

The grazing fees are not determined by the BLM.  They are a based on a formula which was originally set by Congress in the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 and modified via executive order (Order 12548 — Grazing Fees) under President Ronald Reagan in 1986.  The fee falls and rises based on the cost of livestock production, beef cattle prices and current private grazing land lease rates.  Known as the per animal unit month (AUM), today it is $1.35, compared to the $1.23 per AUM that it was in 1966.  This is actually a decrease when adjusted for inflation, as $1.23 in 1966 would convert to $8.97 in 2014.  It is also a fraction of what ranchers pay on private lands.  Grazing fees from 1981 to 2012 can be seen here (PDF).

Bundy BLM Fees Nevada

These rates were set in stone by way of Ronald Reagan’s executive order as of 1986.  Executive Order 12548 states:

Section 1. Determination of Fees. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior are directed to exercise their authority, to the extent permitted by law under the various statutes they administer, to establish fees for domestic livestock grazing on the public rangelands which annually equals the $1.23 base established by the 1966 Western Livestock Grazing Survey multiplied by the result of the Forage Value Index (computed annually from data supplied by the Statistical Reporting Service) added to the Combined Index (Beef Cattle Price Index minus the Prices Paid Index) and divided by 100; provided, that the annual increase or decrease in such fee for any given year shall be limited to not more than plus or minus 25 percent of the previous year’s fee, and provided further, that the fee shall not be less than $1.35 per animal unit month.

“It’s because of Harry Reid and the Chinese Solar Farm Deal” & The “Why The Bundy Ranch – What You’re Not Being Told” Video

Ignoring the 20 years of illegal cattle grazing and the numerous court battles that Bundy lost, conspiracy theorists have made the argument that this is somehow in connection with a (now-defunct) 2012 proposal for ENN Energy Group, to build a $5 billion solar farm and panel manufacturing plant in Nevada. The problem with this “connection” is that Laughlin (where the solar farm was going to be built) resides about 100 miles south of the Golden Butte area where the point of contention lies.

Harry Reid Chinese Solar Farm

There is at least one video (Why The Bundy Ranch – What You’re Not Being Told) falsely claiming that solar farm was to be built where the Bundy Ranch.  The video cites this Reuters article (which actually states that the solar farm was to be built in Laughlin, NV–of course, the video provides no link to the actual article).

nevada chinese solar harry reid
It’s unlikely that Harry Reid is pulling strings to get ranchers off federal lands so that a Chinese Solar Farm can be built 100 or so miles away.

“The BLM’s removal of a cached page ties BLM to solar projects!”

The taking down of the BLM site’s old “Northeast Clark County Cattle Trespass” page has caused come conspiracy theorists to assume foul play (as if the BLM has something to hide).  Namely, they believe that this sentence is revealing:

Non-Governmental Organizations have expressed concern that the regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone utilizes Gold Butte as the location for offsite mitigation for impacts from solar

This is apparently a “smoking gun” for anyone subjectively trying to “find” some new world order conspiracy, and it is confusing for someone trying to objectively understand what this means.  Fortunately, The Wildlife News translates this for the rest of us:

This is bureaucratic language but all it means is that private groups like the Western Watersheds Project,  Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Friends of Gold Butte and Friends of Joshua Tree Forest don’t think the solar power damage elsewhere can be mitigated here at Gold Butte because the damn cattle will tromp all over it and shit on it.

Yes, but, but, but are not then Bundy’s cattle stopping the solar projects that Harry Reid wants so much? Of course not. They are gleefully ripping up the desert anyway without wildlife mitigation near Gold Butte.

The last sentence brings up an excellent point.  The government doesn’t need to round up cattle to build solar farms.  They can simply have them built (it’s federal land) with or without the cattle there. The very logic behind this “dot connection” is flawed, to begin with.

If the BLM were truly trying to hide “Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone” reference, they could have just deleted that specific point, and it would have drawn less (if any) attention than deleting the page altogether.  In fact, if this statement were somehow incriminating, it’s unlikely they’d have posted it on their website, to begin with.

It’ worth emphasizing what the intended mitigation means.  The BLM was stating that NGO’s want to use this place as a refuge for species being affected by solar development elsewhere. This is essentially a guarantee that NO solar development is scheduled to take place here.  In other words, the statement makes the exact opposite point the conspiracy theorists have run with.

Furthermore, the BLM page actually lists several problems Bundy’s trespass cattle presented:

  • One feral cow was hit by an automobile within Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  Cattle are frequently seen on public roads, including State Route 170 and pose a danger to vehicles and to members of the public traveling on public roads.
  • Overton Wildlife Refuge (State of Nevada) employee attacked by a Bundy bull.
  • Crop destroyed by Bundy cattle on private land.
  • Mesquite Heritage Community Garden damaged by trespass cattle.
  • Mesquite golf course damaged by trespass cattle.

Finally, in regards to the BLM “removing the Google Cached page” as well (in addition to taking if off of their own site): the BLM has no control over the Google cache.  Google keeps a cached version of a page, which shows how the page appears when Google last crawled the page.  If a page goes away, the Google Cache will remain until Google once again tries to crawl the page.  Once Google “realizes” that the page is gone, the cache will disappear as well.

The government simply wants to lease this land for fracking!

Similar to the “Chinese Solar connection” this claim depends on a sloppy correlation between the Bundy/Gold Butte area and the mere fact that there may exist future energy development “somewhere in Nevada.”  The source of this particular conspiracy did bother to show the map (PDF) showing the alleged relationship between the area of contention and potential fracking.  However, the map clearly shows no potential oil-production in Gold Butte region.

butte nevada fracking
Click to enlarge

“The BLM is just using the Desert Tortoise as an excuse”

The Endangered Species Act is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), not the Bureau of Land Management.  The protection of the Desert Tortoise has long been a priority for animal preservation groups.  And again, the point was to have Bundy pay his grazing fees.  The government came to remove his cattle from this area, not to remove him from “his land.”

“But desert tortoises and cattle have co-existed for X amount of years!”

Like many other similar claims, this is true but misses the point: human encroachment has reduced the desert tortoises’ viability (reducing its population by 90%).  This reduced viability means extra care must be taken in areas where a species still resides.

From The Wildlife News

The conflict between cows and tortoises probably started right away, but the rest of the Mojave Desert was still wide open and desert tortoises had other places to live. As the desert filled in, with Las Vegas, with strip malls, with power lines and highways, the federal lands remained relatively protected from harmful development, but not from cows.

Cows trample young tortoises, damage and destroy tortoise burrows and shrubs used for shelter, cause soil compaction, decrease the diversity of vegetation, remove critical forage, and spread non-native grasses that crowd out the native vegetation that tortoises depend on. Cows compete with desert tortoises for the nutritionally superior plants. Cows spread weeds that result in the subsequent diminished food availability for desert tortoises. Weed composition also affects fire intervals and intensity, which affects tortoises through habitat conversion, destruction, and further weed spread, in addition to direct mortality (i.e. burned tortoises). Some of these weed seeds get impaled in tortoise jaws, causing infection and difficulty chewing.

Cows need water if they are going to roam around the desert, but artificial water developments threaten desert tortoise by attracting tortoise predators such as ravens, and by and increasing weedy species and decreasing the foods tortoise prefer. Poorly designed water developments can also trap tortoises and cause them to drown. Same for the grates in roads (“cattleguards”) that prevent livestock from crossing fencelines. Tortoises drop down into those grates and can’t get out. [emphasis added]

As reported by The Sierra Club:

As with many species, the primary threat facing tortoises is habitat destruction and fragmentation. Rapid urbanization and development in tortoise habitat cause direct and indirect mortality. Examples of indirect effects include barriers to movement, introduction, and increase in predators (e.g. domestic dogs), and spread of non-native plant species that displace important native vegetation and increase wildfires.

Roads and off-highway vehicles can have serious detrimental impacts on tortoise populations. A number of tortoises have been killed or injured by vehicles on both paved and dirt roads as well as off roads. Roads also accelerate the spread of invasive non-native plants.

From BiologicalDiversity.org

Environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management today for failing for seven years to report impacts to the desert tortoise and similarly threatened and endangered species from off-road vehicles, cattle grazing and other activities in California’s deserts.

From Tortoise.org:

Cattle impact desert tortoise in many ways. Cows trample tortoises, their eggs and their burrows, they compete for important food plants, degrade the habitat and promote the spread of weeds and nonnative vegetation” said Michael J. Connor, California Science Director for Western Watersheds Project. “This plan is particularly bad because it will increase the number of cattle grazing in desert tortoise habitat and concentrate those cattle in the most sensitive critical habitat areas in dry years, the very years when the tortoises are most at risk.

From the Mesquite Citizen

“Enough is enough,” said Mrowka. “As of December 2011, more than 80,600 acres of desert tortoise habitat have been destroyed in Clark County under the pretense that the agreed-on steps were being taken to help tortoises in protected areas. But since 1998, grazing that was supposed to be eliminated at Gold Butte has gone on, despite two federal courts saying it should stop.”

In 1994 the Fish and Wildlife Service identified areas critical to the long-term survival of the desert tortoise; one was Gold Butte. In 1998 the BLM released its current “resource management plan,” which clearly indicates that grazing allotments in tortoise critical habitat would be closed, Mrowka stated.

“If the BLM cares about Tortoises, why do they euthanize them!?”

Due to a shortage of funding, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center budget was running dry in 2013 (in part due to a slow economy, and perhaps in part due to people like Bundy not paying their grazing fees). The plan was to adopt out as many tortoises as possible, release some into the wild, and euthanize those who carrying diseases or who were too feeble to survive in the arid deserts.

From HuffPo:

“It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery coordinator Roy Averill-Murray during a visit to the soon-to-be-shuttered reserve at the southern edge of the Las Vegas Valley last week.

Biologists went about their work examining tortoises for signs of disease as Averill-Murray walked among the reptile pens. But the scrubby 220-acre refuge area will stop taking new animals in the coming months. Most that arrive in the fall will simply be put down, late-emerging victims of budget problems that came from the same housing bubble that put a neighborhood of McMansions at the edge of the once-remote site.

“If this was a lawful attempt to collect a debt owed, why were the Feds armed?”

After 20 years of allowing his cattle to graze on federal lands without paying (with him expanding said grazing into other federally-owned territories), numerous court judgments against him, the federal government was finally sending agents in to collect the trespassing cows.  Bundy, who was given fair warning of the future seizure, issues implied threats and implications of “another Waco.”  Hence, it’s no surprise that federal agents were armed in case these threats were in fact, real.

“The BLM is out of control, and doesn’t represent the people!”

In the onslaught of hyperbole and vitriol leveled at the BLM, many have overlooked some basic facts, and treated the BLM as some all-encompassing agency subject to no oversight, making decisions at its own whim.  In doing so, they have ignored countless other actors in this situation. For example, it was the Fish and Wildlife Service, not the BLM, who decided the desert tortoise was in danger, and that Gold Butte was essential to its long-term survival.  Three separate court rulings all ruled against Bundy. The BLM has 29 citizen-based (not government agencies) advisory councils (each consisting of 12-15 members from diverse backgrounds–including ranchers) in the western States alone.  And while the average citizen does not “elect” BLM members, they do elect the head of the executive branch (of which the BLM is a part of), the President of the United States. In addition to this, both environmental groups and local citizens had been pressuring the BLM to finally do something about the cattle.  Those who believe that the BLM wasn’t representing the people only seem to believe that the Bundy family counts as people.

“The BLM Slaughtered a bunch of cows”

The BLM stated that they killed 2 cows, citing safety concerns. However, accusations of the BLM slaughtering cows go beyond this. According to Bundy supporters, far more cows were found killed through exhaustion from running, and mass graves were dug. Since there appears to be no independent investigation of this, the only information being disseminated on this comes from the Bundy ranch and their supporters. There certainly are photos of dead/injured cows and holes that were dug for the apparent reason of serving as mass graves. Unfortunately, for all the video that was apparently taken during the BLM-Bundy Ranch standoff, there appears to be no video showing the BLM to be the source of the mass graves, nor how many of the cows were intentionally killed, as opposed to killed as a byproduct of trampling from the attempted roundup. Hopefully, an independent investigation will shed light on this matter in the coming days or weeks.

Also, not widely known is that Cliven Bundy has continued to sell his cows.  While the net worth of these transactions is not publicly known (likewise, with Cliven Bundy’s net worth), at least two of them could have netted Bundy $100,000 (per transaction).

“The BLM tasered innocent protesters!”

Videos of BLM officers tasering protesters have also caused quite a stir. Trying to piece together timelines of how/why this occurred is a challenge given the shaky camera and multiple events happen simultaneously. Yet, the BLM’s tasering appears to be in response to continued provoking and aggressive acts from the crowd. The first tasering appears to happen to a large male after he attempts to kick a police dog. A female then comes in close proximity to another officer with a police dog and the officer tells her to watch out or she’ll get bit. Another female begins yelling at this officer, accusing him of threatening the other female. A male claims to have been hit by multiple vehicles (the vehicles he and other protesters were attempting to block, which the BLM agents were attempting to remove from harm’s way). The video is worth watching at least once in order to draw your own conclusions over the BLM’s and protester’s actions.

Bundy Supporters were going to use women as human shields

While this seems like a parody, it is in fact, a real statement made by Bundy supporter and ex-sheriff, Richard Mack.  In a statement he made to The Blaze:

We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front. If they are going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.

In a later interview with TPM, the former Sheriff retracted:

“The mistake I made was it was never a strategy. It was never strategized. It was never talked about. The women just did it,” he said. “I was never privy to that, so I thought they did strategize that. I thought that would be the only way they would send women up to the front.”

“Interstate Highway 15 was built for easier access to the Bundy Ranch area”

One of the more interesting rumors involves the claim that the 15 was built so that some future development could take place in the area where Bundy’s ranch resides. This highway connects Southern California (starting just a few miles north of the Mexican border), Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Great Falls, and the Canadian border. In connecting Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, it almost necessarily runs in relative proximity of the Gold Butte. This is a significant stretch for a highway that’s supposed to merely provide access to the Bundy ranch area.

“Cliven Bundy is a Racist and is Pro-Slavery”

Cliven Bundy’s statements regarding the current status of “negroes” along with an expression of “wonder” if they weren’t better off during the days of slavery have caused a firestorm and resulted in much loss of political support. The sound byte that’s been shared across the news has resulted in accusations that Cliven Bundy is a racist.

Merriam-Webster defines racism as:

rac·ism noun \ˈrā-ˌsi-zəm also -ˌshi-\
: poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race

: the belief that some races of people are better than others

While his vernacular is certainly unacceptable by modern standards, and he seems grossly misinformed on both the modern situation of African Americans, as well as their treatment as slaves, his words, taken in context (video below) don’t seem to hint at any ill will and at the most, only a possible belief that “that some races of people are better than others.” He seems to believe that the average Black American sits in front of his/her porch, and is being supported by government subsidies.  The factual incorrectness of his belief aside, whether he believes that this is the case because of “racial inferiority” or is systematic (or something else) is left for readers to interpret.  Many will interpret it as the former, but the “innocent until proven guilty” approach leaves no room for this assumption.

It is also important to keep in mind that his statements and choice of words were rather common during much of Bundy’s lifetime, and certainly in such a rural setting. Some have taken his poor choice of words to suggest that he is in fact “pro-Slavery,” but taking his statements in a wider context, he obviously thinks African Americans have it worse than they actually do, and had it better treatment as slaves than they actually had (he doesn’t seem to understand that slaves weren’t generally allowed to have the “family life”). So his statements appear to be the result of his mistaken beliefs about the current state of African Americans and about slavery, as opposed to a “wish” to return to slavery.  It’s also difficult to see any actual hostility towards African Americans.  It is important to hear the entire context before deciding if he is in fact, racist.

Keeping things in Context

In the process of discussing all of this, it’s easy to lose context and begin to think that the BLM was attempting to take Bundy’s ranch and that it was all over some desert tortoises.  But remember, no one was attempting to kick him off of his land, they were attempting to get him, first to pay his cattle-grazing fees (for 20 years), then to get his cattle off of federal land.  The BLM attempted seizure of his cattle has been 20 years in the making.

Further Reading