Until Wednesday night

Kirk Siegler at NPR did a backgrounder on Cliven Bundy.

Bundy, who inspired the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was arrested at the airport in Portland, Ore., Wednesday night, apparently on his way to Malheur.

In a 32-page criminal complaint, prosecutors allege Bundy and his co-conspirators led a massive, armed assault against federal officers in April 2014 near the town of Bunkerville, Nev.

Just like a cowboy movie!

“What’s at stake here? Freedom, liberty and statehood, that’s what’s at stake here,” Bundy told me when I visited his ranch in southeastern Nevada shortly after the 2014 standoff.

That hot summer day, Bundy sat between two bodyguards. Photos of his 14 children and framed Mormon scripture hung on the wall behind him.

Just like a religious war! Crossed with a cowboy movie. What could possibly go wrong?

“[Federal authorities] was acting like an army coming against ‘we the people,’ ” Bundy said at the time.

“We the people” is a constant Cliven Bundy refrain. He has flouted federal grazing laws and four prior court orders because he believes his Mormon ancestors arrived in the region and claimed a “right” to this land, predating the federal territories — an argument often disputed by historians who study the American West.

And what does “claiming” a “right” even mean? I believe Native Americans would love to see a coherent answer to that question.

Talk shows liked him for awhile, but then he talked some racist crap (now there’s a surprise) so they tiptoed away. (If it had been sexist crap they would have nodded in agreement.)

But after all the attention started to fade, the federal government still didn’t act against Bundy. The BLM completely pulled out of the region, and Bundy and his supporters declared victory — until Wednesday night.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” says Alan O’Neill, a retired park superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which spans the Arizona-Nevada border near Bundy’s ranch.

O’Neill’s first brushes with Cliven Bundy’s defiance began in the late 1990s, when Bundy’s cows cattle were illegally grazing on park service land. He said there was a plan in place to remove them, but it was stopped back then at the last minute because the federal government worried about another Waco.

So that’s at least 15 years he’s had the run of the place.

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