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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
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And I'm Linda Wertheimer. Earlier this year, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy staged a standoff with the Federal Bureau of Land Management over cattle grazing rights. Armed antigovernment protesters turned out in support. That conflict came back into focus last week because of a shooting spree in Las Vegas which left five people dead, including the two shooters. Those two had joined the standoff on Bundy's ranch in April. Today, Bundy is still as defiant as ever as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Cliven Bundy's ranch is just a few miles off Interstate 15 in southern Nevada. The dirt road that gets you there snakes through a hot and forlorn patch of desert. You know you've found the Bundy place you see a spray painted sign for Bundy melons.
CLIVEN BUNDY: What we say is we raise cows and melons and kids. That's what we do here.
SIEGLER: Bundy has 14 children. In his living room, there are prominent photos of all them. A swamp cooler rattles in one corner. In another, next to his favorite rocking chair, is a copy of the Book of Mormon.
BUNDY: That's the St. George Temple - LDS.
SIEGLER: Bundy's ancestors were LDS pioneers, the first white settlers in this part of the country. His family's been raising cattle on the mesas about this house since then. That's partly why he's at the center of the fight of grazing leases that has implications far beyond Southern Nevada. At least, he sees it that way.
BUNDY: We'll defend this country and this land, and we're not ever going to let this happen, where our government actually sticks these military weapons down our throat again. That'll never happen again.
SIEGLER: Bundy talks openly about not giving in on his legal battle with the Bureau of Land Management. And he had the backing of armed militia men and others who converged here, including Jared and Amanda Miller, the suspects in last week's deadly shooting spree. Bundy is quick to distance himself from the Millers.
BUNDY: There've been 4,000 people on this ranch, and this incident in Las Vegas is the only instance of anything criminal or bad happening here for the last two months.
SIEGLER: Right now, things are quiet out here. The TV trucks have left, and the political pundits have distanced themselves since Bundy's racist comments shortly after the standoff. Back on the highway, just a handful of militiamen are still camped at a guard post near the ranch. And Bundy's right. The federal government has effectively been driven out. The BLM is no longer staffing anyone here or patrolling the vast public lands due to safety concerns. What you do see are a lot of American flags tied to guardrails, homemade signs read, BLM, get out. There's even an official-looking one. It's in the shape of Nevada and reads, Welcome to Nevada land.
BUNDY: I'm assuming that whoever put that sign up believes that the land in Clark County, Nevada should belong to the people of Clark County, Nevada.
SIEGLER: Around Bunkervill, you'll find folks like fellow rancher Dwayne Magoon. He didn't take part in the standoff, but he's sympathetic to Bundy's cause. See, tensions here have been simmering for decades. More than 80 percent of Nevada is federal land, and the ranchers feel like the BLM has been steadily trying to force them out of business due to tighter environmental restrictions on grazing and other uses of the land.
DWAYNE MAGOON: This particular issue was about a rancher who wouldn't give up and pick his marbles up and go home. And our federal government is not used to that. And do I think they're coming back? Yes, I do.
SIEGLER: The BLM isn't talking. A spokesman said only that the agency is working to ensure that those who broke the law are held accountable. Some former federal land managers say the agency's silence isn't helping the situation. Gloria Flora was a federal forest supervisor here during the Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1990s. She points out that with the help of the U.S. attorney, Cliven Bundy was found guilty back in April of 2013.
GLORIA FLORA: And it takes a year for the government to plan some kind of an action? And then you get desk jockeys back in D.C. who just can't wait to, you know, craft some special secret agent, you know, strategy. It just - it gets totally out of hand.
SIEGLER: For now, you get the sense that both sides are waiting for the other to blink. As for Cliven Bundy, this is about a lot more than a few cows.
BUNDY: What's at stake here? - freedom and liberty and statehood. That's what's at stake here.
SIEGLER: If the federal government comes back, Bundy promises his militia supporters will also return. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.
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