As We See It

Bundy protest: Weighing liberty and justice on the courthouse steps

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Greg Whalen, left, and Rick Pollard, supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, protest in front of the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas Thursday, March 10, 2016. Bundy is facing charges relating to an armed ranching standoff against Bureau of Land Management agents in April 2014.
Photo: Steve Marcus

A supporter of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy holds a sign in front of the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas Thursday, March 10, 2016. Bundy is facing charges relating to an armed ranching standoff against Bureau of Land Management agents in April 2014.

The traffic passing the Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse on Las Vegas Boulevard includes a double-decker tour bus. It slows to a stop, waiting for a light to change. Riders examine the scene on the sidewalk below: cowboys, ranchers, families and patriots, American flags. Cliven Bundy’s supporters hold up signs—“Ranchers lives matter” and “Honk for freedom.” A tourist snaps a photo.

Bundy waits inside for his arraignment, the Bunkerville rancher indicted on 16 felony charges regarding his armed standoff with law enforcement in 2014 after refusing for more than two decades to pay grazing fees on public land.

Into a megaphone, Assembly-woman Shelly Shelton tells the crowd the political prisoners—including Bundy’s sons and about a dozen others—are being held without bond, “chained to the walls” and must be freed. She begins to cry. “God is speaking to us. If we want to keep our liberty, if we want to keep our freedom, submit to God and ask for his guidance. Pray. That is our most powerful weapon.”

Down the street, red and blue lights flicker atop a police surveillance trailer monitoring the protest. The crosswalk light changes, and the protesters face the cars with their signs, including: “Arrest LaVoy’s murderers.”

Bundy Supporters at Federal Courthouse

Thara Tenney from Utah says her father, Robert LaVoy Finicum, was murdered by the government, that it was a political assassination. A leader in the recent occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, along with Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Finicum was fired upon by federal agents and Oregon State Police at a roadblock. According to the Central Oregon Major Incident Team’s investigation report, the OSP officers who fired the fatal shots said he’d reached for a loaded handgun (which some of his supporters dispute).

He was a good man, Tenney says, then derides Common Core and Obamacare, praises Founding Father principles and talks about the spirit of liberty igniting in the hearts of each generation, adding, “I never imagined it would be my father’s blood watering the tree of liberty.”

Cliven Bundy’s sister Lillie Spencer tells the reporters clustered on the sidewalk to report the truth. What are the lies? “That they’ve done things wrong,” Spencer says of the prisoners. “They’re making us look like thugs. We are good people. We work for a living. We’re just standing up for our rights and our freedom. We’re not anti-government. Cliven’s in there now. We want him out. He’s a good man.” They won’t be watching this on the news. They’ve turned off their televisions because the media lies, they say.

Tenney’s son plays on the courthouse steps in the sunshine. She says the armed militia protesting and pointing weapons at law enforcement near Bunkerville wasn’t a standoff. “They were asserting their First and Second Amendment rights. People are being murdered and wrongfully incarcerated by a tyrannical government.”

But this is no surprise to her. “We believe in Last Days,” she says. “It’s been prophesized.”

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