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Protesters gather at the Bureau of Land Management Protesters gather at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle that were seized from rancher Cliven Bundy are being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada April 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)  

GOP lawmaker urges BLM to stop illegal ‘paramilitary raids’ against rancher

Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management this week claiming that the agency was illegally using armed agents in its “paramilitary raid” against a Nevada rancher.

Even though the Bureau of Land Management ceased rounding up Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle, reports indicate that federal agents are gearing up for a raid on Bundy’s ranch. Stockman says that such use of force is illegal and the BLM is required by law to rely on local law enforcement officials — not heavily-armed BLM agents.

“Because of this standoff, I have looked into BLM’s authority to conduct paramilitary raids against American citizens, and it appears the BLM is acting in a lawless manner in Nevada,” Stockman wrote to BLM officials.

Stockman says federal law requires the BLM to use local law enforcement officers to help enforce federal laws. The BLM has not done this in the case of Cliven Bundy. Federal agents have been spearheading efforts to gather cattle and suppress protesters who sympathize with Bundy, while local law enforcement agents have sat on the sidelines.

Stockman cites 43 United States Code Section 1733 which says that the Interior Secretary “shall offer a contract to appropriate local officials having law enforcement authority” to achieve “maximum feasible reliance” upon such local officials.

“Yet, at the Bundy farm, on the federal law enforcement front line were BLM Law Enforcement Rangers and BLM Special Agents. The Sheriff of Clark County has been on the sidelines,” Stockman wrote.

“Until this possible violation of federal law can be more fully investigated, and the statute requiring reliance on local law enforcement followed in both letter and spirit, the federal government must not only stand down, but remove all federal personnel from anywhere near the Bundy ranch,” Stockman continued.

Bundy’s fight with the BLM began about two decades ago when the agency altered his grazing rights on federal lands to protect the desert tortoise, which had been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. In 1998, Bundy was ordered to remove his cattle from federal lands in Gold Butte, Nevada.

Bundy refused and began another legal battle with the federal government. He lost in 2013 and was again ordered to remove his cattle from federal lands. Bundy didn’t comply and federal agents began removing his cattle earlier this month, which sparked a massive protest that drew people in from across the country.

Armed militia members also came to Bundy’s defense, ready to fight federal agents if they tried to use force against Bundy or his supporters. Bundy’s allies became particularly outraged when the BLM tried to limit their protests to “First Amendment zones.”

Finally, on April 12, the BLM called off its cattle removal operation over safety concerns for its agents and civilian protesters.

“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,” said BLM director Neil Kornze in a statement.

But federal agents are still in the area, and some media outlets have reported that federal officials are gearing up for a raid on the Bundy ranch. Bundy himself travels with a contingent of armed guards.

“They’re just there, trying to make sure something crazy doesn’t happen to him,” Ammon Bundy, Bundy’s son, told KLAS-TV Las Vegas.”There were snipers on the hills and armed guards and you know, military forces with cameras all over.”

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