Federal officials have backed away from a growing confrontation over land rights in Clark County, Nev., citing “serious concern” about the safety of law enforcement officials and private citizens on the front lines of the standoff.

As WND reported, helicopters, four-wheel-drive vehicles and an estimated 200 armed officers of the federal Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, were deployed to the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy, while citizen militias rallied to the property, prepared to support the rancher.

The dispute escalated last weekend, when federal authorities began seizing cattle grazing on federal lands adjacent to Bundy’s property in Bunkerville, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, charging the rancher has been in violation of a law that aims to protect an endangered desert tortoise. The BLM also says Bundy owes more than $1 million in grazing fees to the federal government.

But now, according to a report by KSNV-TV in Las Vegas, the gathering of cattle has been stopped by the director of the BLM, and Bundy is meeting with Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie to discuss a possible solution.

The station reported the following statement, made by Neil Kornze, director of the BLM: “As we have said from the beginning of the gather (sic) to remove illegal cattle from federal land consistent with court orders, a safe and peaceful operation is our No. 1 priority. After one week, we have made progress in enforcing two recent court orders to remove the trespass cattle from public lands that belong to all Americans.

“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement,” Kornze continued, “we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather (sic) because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.

“We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner,” he concluded.

As WND reported, tensions rose Thursday when two men from Utah who had come to join the protest in support of Bundy were detained by federal officials.

Brothers Tyler and Spencer Shillig said they walked through a gated area of land near Overton, Nev., when they were confronted by BLM rangers, according to KTNV-TV in Las Vegas.

Spencer claims he was handcuffed and sustained cuts and scrapes to his head, neck and arms when he was detained. The BLM has stated “public safety is key to this operation’ and it has “minimal law enforcement in place to ensure public safety.”

One of Cliven’s seven sons, Dave Bundy, was taken into custody Sunday after allegedly being roughed up for taking pictures along State Road 170, which has been closed. His camera was confiscated. Another son, Ammon, was tased Wednesday by authorities in a clash with about 50 protesters.

The Washington Free Beacon reported Thursday that the BLM has brought in armed rangers from out of state to assist in security surrounding the Bundy ranch.

Stetsy Bundy Cox, Cliven’s daughter, said the rangers are “almost like a hired gun.”

“Because what they’re supposed to do is they each have a road, and are told to stay on that road, and they’re supposed to keep people off that road, whatever means possible. That’s their job,” she told the Free Beacon. “They don’t even know how many cows have been gathered.”

‘No cow justifies’

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval decried the federal government’s tactics.

“No cow justifies the atmosphere of intimidation which currently exists nor the limitation of constitutional rights that are sacred to all Nevadans,” Sandoval said. “The BLM needs to reconsider its approach to this matter and act accordingly.”

Sen. Heller, R-Nev., meanwhile said he told BLM Director Neil Kornze that “law-abiding Nevadans must not be penalized by an over-reaching BLM.”

Screenshot of video of confrontation with Ammon Bundy and other protesters

Sandoval has criticized the federal government’s decision to confine protests to “First Amendment areas.” The move, he said, “tramples upon Nevadans’ fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

At a town hall meeting this week, Bundy’s sister Margaret Houston said she felt like she was in “a war zone” and “not in the United States,” the London Daily Mail reported.

‘Better have funeral plans’

Sparking outrage, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins warned that supporters of Bundy planning to come from Utah “better have funeral plans,” according to a Utah county commissioner who said he spoke with Collins.

Darin Bushman, a commissioner in Piute County, Utah, said in a post on his Facebook page that Collins told him “all of us folks from Utah are a bunch of ‘inbred bastards” and if we are to come to [Clark County] to support Cliven Bundy we all ‘better have funeral plans.'”

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins (LasVegasCityLife.com)

Adding fuel to the growing rhetorical fire, Arizona state Rep. Kelly Townsend said the roundup reminds her of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China.

She is among about three dozen Arizona Republican state legislators who have signed a letter to federal and Nevada officials expressing concern about government heavy-handedness and the restriction of free speech.

The lawmakers say aren’t arguing over whether Bundy has broken laws or violated grazing agreements.

Townsend told the Las Vegas Review-Journal she was shocked after seeing video that showed federal police used a stun gun on one of Bundy’s sons.

“Watching that video last night created a visceral reaction in me,” Townsend said. “It sounds dramatic, but it reminded me of Tiananmen Square. I don’t recognize my country at this point.”

Who is the trespasser?

Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon Bundy told WND this week that federal authorities have not been merely re-locating the cattle but engaging in actions that have killed many of the animals.

“They are flying helicopters over the herd to chase them,” Ammon Bundy said. “It was over 90 degrees here today, and the cattle can’t run very far in this heat before collapsing. This is especially true for the young calves. We have a lot of them being born because it is springtime, and they don’t have the strength to keep up with their mothers when they are running. The cattle then become overheated and die.”

Cliven Bundy

Cliven Bundy, who has said he fears the standoff could turn into another Ruby Ridge or Waco disaster, insists he has been acting within his legal rights.

“I have raised cattle on that land, which is public land for the people of Clark County, all my life. Why I raise cattle there, and why I can raise cattle there, is because I have preemptive rights,” he said, contending that among them is the right to forage.

“Who is the trespasser here?” he asked. “Who is the trespasser on this land? Is the United States trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Or is it Cliven Bundy who is trespassing on Clark County, Nevada, land? Who’s the trespasser?”

In 1992, in a confrontation with members of a militia movement Ruby Ridge, Idaho, federal agents shot an unarmed woman at who was holding an infant in her arms. In Waco, Texas, in 1993, federal and state law enforcement and military engaged in a siege of a compound belonging to the Branch Davidian cult that resulted in the deaths of 76 men, women and children.

Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie has called for both sides to resolve the issue peacefully, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal “no drop of human blood is worth spilling over any cow.”

Ammon Bundy told WND that his family and others who are defending them believe they have been left unprotected because “the local sheriff has said they are not going to get involved in what is happening, saying this is a BLM issue.”

“This means they are leaving us completely vulnerable, because the BLM are the only side with the weapons and if they decide to use violent force there is nothing we can do.”

Last rancher in the county

Cliven Bundy is the last rancher operating in Clark County, where he’s been grazing his cattle on a 600,000 acre portion of land managed by the BLM called Gold Butte. His family, whose ties to the land go back to the 1880s, has been engaged in a dispute since 1993 with the Bureau of Land Management over long-established cattle-grazing rights.

Tyler and Spencer Shillig were detained Thursday evening by federal authorities (KLAS-TV, Las Vegas)

After years of wrangling in the courts, last week BLM secured a federal court order declaring Bundy’s herd to be “trespass cattle” and began removing the animals.

Since 1998, when it designated Gold Butte home of the protected desert tortoise, Gold Butte has been off-limits to cattle grazing. BLM has insisted it has exhausted all other options to stop citizens who are ignoring federal regulations.

“For more than two decades, cattle have been grazed illegally on public lands in northeast Clark County,” BLM said in a statement. “BLM and (the National Park Service) have made repeated attempts to resolve this matter administratively and judicially. Impoundment of cattle illegally grazing on public lands is an option of last resort.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmentalist group, has praised the federal government for taking action.

“Despite having no legal right to do so, cattle from Bundy’s ranch have continued to graze throughout the Gold Butte area, competing with tortoises for food, hindering the ability of plants to recover from extensive wildfires, trampling rare plants, damaging ancient American Indian cultural sites and threatening the safety of recreationists,” said spokesman Rob Mrowka in a statement.

‘Things got pretty ugly’

Dave Bundy’s aunt, Kay Sessions, told WND that authorities who detained her nephew Sunday gave him a concussion and “stomped him on the ground,” causing kidney problems.

Dave Bundy talks to media about his arrest (Las Vegas Review Journal)

“They hauled him to jail and interrogated him all night before letting him go,” she said. “Before they took him to jail officials left him in a hot vehicle for three hours.”

She explained that he was “trying to get pictures of what government officials are doing and they confiscated his camera and tablet.”

Ammon Bundy said he was with a group of about 50 people “peacefully protesting the removal of the cattle” when “suddenly, 14 units with Rangers came off the mountain – 13 of them were armed ranger vehicles with two rangers per unit.”

He said the protesters went over to see what was in a dump truck, “because we were afraid this might have been a rendering vehicle, and we wanted to know what was in the back of the truck.”

See video of the confrontation with Ammon Bundy and protesters:

The rangers got out of their vehicles and the conflict escalated, he said.

“Things got pretty ugly for awhile. They threw a 65-year-old woman on the ground, they tased me twice and they had dogs out there.”

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