ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The man who inspire the Oregon occupation, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is also in jail today. He was arrested at the Portland Airport last night apparently on his way to the refuge. Bundy is facing multiple felony charges that include conspiracy and assault on a federal officer for the 2014 standoff at his Nevada ranch. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The 32-page criminal complaint alleges that Cliven Bundy and his coconspirators led a massive armed assault against federal officers in April of 2014 near Bunkerville, Nev. According to the U.S. attorney for Nevada, Bundy and his armed supporters on horseback effectively ambushed the feds as they were trying to round up 400 of Bundy's cows illegally grazing on federal land. But Cliven Bundy's self-described range war has always been about more than cows.
CLIVEN BUNDY: Yeah, well, come on in.
SIEGLER: After the standoff, I drove to his ranch house more or less unannounced and was welcomed into his living room.
BUNDY: On the Bundy ranch, we're about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
SIEGLER: Bundy sat between two bodyguards. Photos of his 14 children and framed Mormon scripture hung on the walls behind him.
BUNDY: What's at stake here - freedom and liberty and statehood. That's what's at stake here.
SIEGLER: That is a constant Cliven Bundy refrain. He's defied the federal grazing laws and four prior court orders because he believes his Mormon ancestors were here first and claimed a right to this land predating the federal territories. It's an argument often disputed by Western historians. Bundy owes the Federal Bureau of Land Management more than a million dollars in leases and fines.
BUNDY: They was acting - I don't know - acting like an army coming against we, the people.
SIEGLER: Bundy enjoyed a few weeks in the national spotlight, a darling of some talkshow hosts, but most would distance themselves from the rancher when a video surfaced of him espousing racist views about African-Americans.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BUNDY: And I've often wondered, you know? Were they better off as slaves picking cotton and having family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy.
SIEGLER: But after all the attention started to fade, the federal government still didn't act against Bundy. The BLM pulled completely out of the region, citing safety concerns, and Bundy said he won, until last night.
O'NEILL: I guess I've been waiting for this for a long time.
SIEGLER: Alan O'Neill is a retired park superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. His first brushes with Cliven Bundy's defiance began in the late 1990s when Bundy's cows were illegally grazing on park service land.
O'NEILL: I thought that the government should have moved quicker on Cliven Bundy, but I'm just happy that they did.
SIEGLER: It's not clear how Bundy's arrest will affect his followers and the larger anti-federal lands movement. Yesterday, reached by cell phone before she began negotiating with the Oregon occupiers, Nevada State Representative Michelle Fiore seemed as defiant as ever.
MICHELE FIORE: Across the western states, this is a pattern of behavior where the BLM has literally become a bureaucracy of terrorism.
SIEGLER: If convicted, prosecutors say Cliven Bundy faces up to 42 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.