Why One Man Traveled Almost 3,000 Miles to Take on the Federal Government at a Nevada Ranch

Business Insider
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April 16 2014 2:13 PM

Why One Man Traveled Almost 3,000 Miles to Take on the Federal Government at a Nevada Ranch

Aerial shot of the Las Vegas strip.
What happens in (or near) Vegas ...

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This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

In early March, the Bureau of Land Management sent a letter to cattle rancher Cliven Bundy informing him they intended to impound his “trespass cattle,” contending he owes more than $1.2 million in fees. On April 5, they started rounding up the cattle on his property. Since then, his story has become a cause for conservative activists frustrated with the federal government. The plight has attracted numerous activists to his property, and the conflict between Bundy’s supporters and federal officials exploded onto the national scene last weekend.

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Days after agents with the Bureau of Land Management ended their effort to round up Cliven Bundy’s cattle to ease mounting tensions, the showdown between the rancher and the federal government is still attracting armed conservative activists from around the country to a dusty stretch of land about 80 miles east of the Vegas Strip. 

Last Tuesday, as he started to read more and more about the situation on the Drudge Report, Jerry DeLemus decided to give Bundy a call.

They spent more than an hour on the phone. “What do you need?” said DeLemus, who was calling from some 2,700 miles away in Dover, N.H. 

“I need help,” Bundy told him. “I need bodies.”

“I’m coming,” DeLemus said. 

It was as simple as that, DeLemus told Business Insider on Tuesday. Soon, he began the long drive in his truck. His son; his friend, Jack; and Jack’s son accompanied him on the cross-country trip. All in all, it took 41 hours across a three-day span. They began driving at 5:30 a.m. Thursday and made it there by Saturday afternoon. They barely took any breaks.

This Wednesday, DeLemus remains in Nevada. He is now running the makeshift “militia” of conservatives protecting the ranch, some of whom are armed with handguns and rifles. DeLemus said about 100 conservative activists are still there, three days after federal agents returned hundreds of cattle they had taken from the ranch.

To DeLemus and these other activists, the Bundy ranch standoff is one of their most important fights yet over what they consider to be an oppressive federal government.

“We are willing to give our lives,” he said in a phone interview.

Bundy’s fight with the federal Bureau of Land Management dates back to 1993, when the BLM eliminated livestock grazing in the area, citing protection of an endangered tortoise species.

That was when Bundy decided to stop paying grazing fees. And now, the agency says he owes more than $1.2 million in fees. A federal judge first ruled in 1998 that Bundy was trespassing on federal land. Last year, a federal judge ruled the agency could remove the cattle. The BLM, among others, says Bundy is breaking the law.

But activists view the situation in terms of a dispute over states’ rights and an oppressive federal government. It was a major topic of conversation among conservative activists last weekend in New Hampshire, where the groups Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Citizens United hosted the Freedom Summit. It was there that Business Insider met DeLemus’ wife, Susan, who said he had been inspired by “freedom.”

“Lawlessness,” DeLemus said of the situation. “You look that up in the dictionary, and you’ll see the definition of our government right beside it. They all are. Congress, both houses, and the White House.”

Despite the retreat of the BLM, which cited “escalating tensions” when it returned the cattle to Bundy, DeLemus and many others there have no plan to leave anytime soon. 

“You s----in’ me?” he said, when asked if he was planning to head back to New Hampshire. 

They, and the Bundy family, do not believe their fight with the federal government has ended. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior senator from Nevada, said Monday the situation was “not over,” citing Bundy’s apparent violation of federal law. BLM spokesman Craig Leff told CBS News the agency would now seek to resolve the situation “administratively and judicially,” but was unclear on the specific next steps.

Bundy, DeLemus, and the other activists, however, might face another, more unexpected hurdle. They have failed to see much support from some prominent conservatives, who are far from unified in their opinions on the situation.

Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson said on Fox News on Monday that, while Bundy was mistreated by the federal government, the land doesn’t belong to him. Conservative host Glenn Beck warned conservatives against glorifying “the right’s version of Occupy Wall Street.”

DeLemus is an avid follower of Beck, having started up a local version of Beck’s “9-12 project,” comprised of nine principles and 12 values Beck says represent those of the Founding Fathers.

Though he said he actually agreed with some of the points made by Occupy Wall Street, DeLemus thinks there’s a key difference here: The Bundy supporters are not being reactionary and “causing destruction.” They are fighting for constitutional rights, he said.

His message to Beck and other skeptical conservatives: Come to Nevada and see the situation firsthand. 

“Glenn doesn’t know the whole story,” DeLemus said. “He needs to come out here.”

Brett LoGiurato is a political reporter for Business Insider. Follow him on Twitter.

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