Three years before the armed confrontation at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch gate, the FBI suggested waiving his fines and fees. According to information gathered and reported by the Washington Post, the FBI had determined that Bundy was personally unlikely to be violent in the event of a conflict and suggested to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the best way to resolve the situation was to drop demands for his 20 years of unpaid grazing fees and fines.
The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, based in Quantico, Virginia, determined in 2011 that Bundy was unlikely to comply with federal court orders to move his 900 animals off federal land, where they had been illegally grazing, because "he only has enough land to handle less than 100 head of cattle." Though the Bureau of Land Management was concerned that allowing Bundy to avoid paying federal grazing fees and fines could lead to violence, the FBI thought otherwise.
"BLM may wish to consider waiving the existing fines, as a gesture of willingness to participate in discussions geared toward negotiations," the FBI wrote in the classified analysis, obtained by The Washington Post. The unit concluded that any alternatives the government could offer Bundy might reduce the rancher's stress and "in turn, reduce the risk of a violent act."
The BLM, of course, did not take the FBI’s advice, and in 2014 when BLM officers attempted to gather Bundy’s cattle they were met by hundreds of protesters and militia members who had come to support Bundy. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that tensions reached a "critical level" during the standoff, "with rifles pointing toward each side."
The standoff ended on April 12, 2014, when the BLM Director Neil Kornze said that "Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public."
The momentum from the Bundy standoff spawned other conflicts, including the one at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon January 2016.
The FBI's threat assessment was one of several pieces of evidence that led to a mistrial of Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan, a case that centered on their actions during the standoff. A judge ruled that the FBI document, as well as threat assessments conducted by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department and the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center (SNCTC), were improperly kept from the defendants during discovery.
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