Cliven Bundy's neighbors don't appreciate all the attention that the rebellious rancher has brought to the area.
By: Ken Ritter, Associated Press
American flags flap in the wind on the two-lane state highway to Cliven Bundy's ranch. Along the roadside, self-described militia members in camouflage who came to defend him from the federal government lounge and smoke, loaded pistols on their hips.
Ten miles from these desert encampments, the telephone is ringing more than usual at the police department in Mesquite, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Travelers from around the country are calling, wondering if it's safe to pass on Interstate 15, where Bundy and his supporters, some armed with military-style weapons, faced down federal officials in an April 12 standoff over his cattle grazing on federal land.
Police Chief Troy Tanner tells callers it's safe. But local authorities and Bundy's neighbors are growing weary of the attention and the unresolved dispute. Since the standoff, Bundy went from being proclaimed a patriot by some for his resistance to a racist for comments he made about blacks being better off under slavery.
"Most of our neighbors have about the same opinions we have. They don't like it," said John Booth, a resident of nearby Bunkerville who drove this week with his wife, Peggie, past the State Route 170 encampments. "But they're not really going to say anything about it."
As triple-digit temperatures of a Mojave Desert summer approach, militia members vow to stay and protect Bundy and his family from government police, though it's unclear what the immediate threat is.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has halted plans — at least for now — to round up Bundy's cattle under a court order to remove them from public land and habitat of the desert tortoise. The BLM says Bundy owes $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties.
"We haven't been told by the Bundys that they're ready for us to go," said Jerry DeLemus, a former U.S. Marine from New Hampshire.
DeLemus heads a self-styled militia protection force of perhaps 30 people who sleep in tents, clean their military-style AR-15 and AK-47 weapons, and form work crews to help build watering bins for cattle on and around the Bundy ranch.
Bundy, who turned 68 on Tuesday, rode his call for a "range war" to conservative media stardom. He's been portrayed as a states' rights advocate battling an overreaching government, and a white-hat, last-of-the-cowboys figure.
Just as quickly, he lost many Republican defenders when he made the comments about blacks last week. Democrats labeled Bundy a racist.