News / USA

    Lack of Prosecution in US West Land Disputes Emboldens Protesters, Some Say

    Ryan Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, walks through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 8, 2016.
    Ryan Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, walks through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 8, 2016.

    As the armed occupation of U.S. federal buildings in rural Oregon drags on, some blame the U.S. government for failing to arrest anti-government lawbreakers in the western United States after the last big standoff in 2014.

    Some former federal officials and lawmakers say they believe anti-government lawbreakers have been emboldened by the Justice Department's failure to prosecute rancher Cliven Bundy, whose 2014 standoff with the government over Nevada grazing rights ended with federal agents backing down in the face of about 1,000 armed militiamen.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been building a case against participants in that dispute, according to federal and local officials. But prosecutors have yet to bring charges, and no arrests of Bundy, his family or others have been made.

    Bundy's sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are now leading a small group of armed protesters in rural Oregon who seized a federal wildlife center Saturday to try to win greater local control over federal land. Cliven Bundy is advising his sons by telephone from Nevada, according to Reuters reporters on the scene.

    "If people feel like there's no repercussions for their actions, especially if they're acting illegally, it does embolden them," said Bob Abbey, who led the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from 2009 to 2012. "Two years should be sufficient time for bringing people to justice."

    Rallying point

    Cliven Bundy's long-running dispute with the BLM over grazing fees turned into a rallying point for the far right in 2014, when hundreds of heavily armed paramilitary activists flocked to his Nevada ranch to prevent federal agents from seizing his cattle. Bundy's sons were also photographed participating in the dispute.

    Bundy's perceived victory energized a far-right citizens militia movement that has waxed and waned in the United States over several decades. The Department of Homeland Security predicted in an intelligence report that it would inspire other acts of violence.

    The BLM said it was still pursuing the Bundy case through the legal system. "Our primary goal remains to resolve this matter safely and according to the rule of the law," spokesman Tom Gorey said. The FBI, the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney's office in Nevada declined to comment.

    Former federal officials say the Justice Department, on the whole, is quick to handle criminal cases involving public lands. But many BLM agents have expressed frustration that the government has not yet brought any charges related to the 2014 standoff, said Ed Shepard, a former BLM Oregon state director who stays in touch with current employees at the agency.

    "It's a violation of law and they should be held accountable for it," said Shepard, who as president of the Public Lands Foundation represents retired BLM workers.

    Waco siege

    In recent years, federal officials have taken a cautious approach when dealing with armed extremists to avoid a repeat of the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, that left more than 80 people dead.

    The hands-off strategy averts bloodshed but has enabled participants in the 2014 standoff to scatter across the country.

    Two people involved in the standoff went on to kill two police officers and one civilian in Las Vegas in June 2014, less than two months after the Nevada standoff at the Bundy ranch ended. Others have discussed plans to seize land and attack federal convoys and helicopters, according to the Homeland Security report, which was released in July of that year.

    One man involved in the standoff, Washington state resident Schuyler Barbeau, was arrested in a separate incident in December on charges of attempting to sell an unregistered firearm. He told an informant that it was his duty to "lynch" public servants he deemed to be unworthy, according to the charges.

    Armed members of the Oath Keepers, a paramilitary group involved in the standoff, gathered at mines in Montana and Oregon last year at the request of owners who said they worried the government was going to seize their properties. Both disputes are pending in court.

    Threats to employees

    The April 2014 standoff also led to an increase in threats and security risks for the federal employees who police rangeland, deter trespassers and round up stray livestock on public land in the western United States, former officials say.

    In the weeks after federal agents backed down, two BLM rangers were menaced at gunpoint on a Utah highway, said Juan Palma, the agency's state director at the time.

    Archaeologists, biologists and others who often work alone far out in the wilderness were required to travel in pairs for safety, and the agency carefully tracked who was in and out of the office, said Palma, now retired.

    "Some of our employees didn't feel comfortable wearing the uniform to be identified in a restaurant," he said.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora