From near and wide, armed men are trickling toward Cliven Bundy’s ranch, where the rancher’s fight with the federal government has become a rallying cry for militia groups across the United States.
On Wednesday, that dispute teetered at the edge of deadly conflict, when Cliven Bundy’s family members and supporters scuffled with rangers from the Bureau of Land Management sent to protect the federal roundup of Bundy’s cattle on public land.
One of Bundy’s seven sons was shot with a stun gun, and Bundy’s sister was knocked to the ground; but no one was seriously hurt, and no arrests were made.
By late Wednesday, three militia members — two from Montana and one from Utah — had arrived at the ranch 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Other militia groups have inundated the Bundy household with calls and pledges to muster at the site. Their stated goal: to protect the Bundys from tyranny.
They say they are prepared for armed confrontation, but they insist they will not be the instigators if bloodshed happens.
Ryan Payne and Jim Lardy, members of the West Mountain Rangers, made the 12-hour drive from western Montana on Tuesday night. Payne is also a coordinator with Operation Mutual Aid, a national association that describes itself as a coalition of state militias.
“They all tell me they are in the process of mobilizing as we speak,” Payne said.
He didn’t put a specific estimate on how many militia members may come, but he said the groups expected are from places like New Hampshire, Texas and Florida and could number in the hundreds.
“We need to be the barrier between the oppressed and the tyrants,” he said. “Expect to see a band of soldiers.”
Payne, 30, and Lardy, 49, both wore holstered handguns as they spoke, but they downplayed the display of firepower. They wear their weapons daily.
They say the goals are for no one to be harmed, the Bundy family to be protected, and the Bundy property restored.
For now, the militia members will camp on the Bundy ranch. They say the issue isn’t about cattle or grazing rights; it’s about constitutional rights.
“We’re not anti-government,” said Lardy, who cuts firewood for a living. “We’re anti-corrupt government.”
Stephen Dean, 45, an artist from Utah, said he made the trip in hopes of heading off another Ruby Ridge or Waco, referring to deadly confrontations involving federal agents in Idaho in 1992 and in Texas in 1993.
A member of the People’s United Mobile Armed Services, Dean said he also carries weapons more powerful than his firearms: a camera and the Internet. Those tools will document the plight of the Bundy ranch and bring the issue to light, he said. “I’m here to see it does happen differently.”
Serious bloodshed was narrowly avoided earlier in the day, when a BLM ranger shot Ammon Bundy, a son of Cliven Bundy, with a stun gun during a heated confrontation a few miles from the ranch house.
A YouTube video shows protesters and law enforcement officers yelling and threatening each other as trucks involved in the roundup attempt to drive through. The officers have stun guns drawn, and one is trying to push the crowd back with a barking dog on a leash.
Cheryl Teerlink, said Ammon Bundy was hit by a stun gun in his arm, chest and neck, but he shook off the first attempt to incapacitate him. “I pulled the tasers out of him,” Teerlink said.