On a mis­sion

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Ter­rence Petty and Michelle Rin­dels

The man be­hind the armed oc­cu­pa­tion of a fed­eral wildlife refuge comes from a Mor­mon fam­ily that has been chal­leng­ing gov­ern­ment author­ity for at least two decades. Am­mon Bundy, as did his fa­ther in pre­vi­ous con­fronta­tions, says he is fol­low­ing di­rec­tions from God and in­vokes his fam­ily’s faith when ex­plain­ing the anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment he is at­tempt­ing to lead.

Two years ago, Cliven Bundy was at the cen­ter of an armed stand­off with fed­eral of­fi­cials over graz­ing rights on gov­ern­ment land. Fed­eral of­fi­cials backed away from seiz­ing the Ne­vada rancher’s cat­tle, but the dis­pute re­mains unresolved, and the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment says the fam­ily has not made pay­ments to­ward a $1.1 mil­lion graz­ing fee and penalty bill.

Now, Cliven Bundy’s son has put him­self in the spot­light, this time in Ore­gon in a dis­pute over some­one else’s ranch­ing op­er­a­tion. His armed group is press­ing fed­eral au­thor­i­ties to turn over gov­ern­ment land to lo­cal con­trol.

Am­mon Bundy came to Ore­gon hop­ing to rally sup­port be­hind his cause, but his tac­tics have been broadly re­jected by many lo­cals, by the state’s main ranch­ing group and by the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, which the Bundy fam­ily has be­longed to for gen­er­a­tions.

In a state­ment is­sued Mon­day, Mor­mon lead­ers said the Ore­gon land dis­pute “is not a church mat­ter,” but they con­demned the seizure and said they were “deeply trou­bled” by re­ports that sug­gest the armed group is act­ing “based on Scrip­tural prin­ci­ples.”

The ranch­ers that Am­mon Bundy came to de­fend re­jected his as­sis­tance and on Mon­day vol­un­tar­ily sur­ren­dered to serve a fed­eral prison term on a 2012 con­vic­tion on charges of com­mit­ting ar­son on fed­eral land.

Even some mili­tia groups say Am­mon Bundy has gone too far. One of them — the Oath Keep­ers — was present at the 2014 Bundy Ranch stand­off in Ne­vada. Their leader is­sued a state­ment last week say­ing Am­mon Bundy had picked the wrong bat­tle.

“We can­not force our­selves or our pro­tec­tion on peo­ple who do not want it,” Oath Keeper founder Ste­wart Rhodes said last week on the group’s web­site.

Speak­ing through their at­tor­ney, Dwight Ham­mond Jr. and son Steven said they pre­ferred to turn them­selves in and serve out their sen­tence.

“And that clear state­ment of their in­tent should be the end of the dis­cus­sion on this,” Rhodes said.

Am­mon Bundy has said he had never heard of the Ham­mond case un­til his fa­ther men­tioned it to him. The Ham­monds were con­victed of ar­son three years ago for set­ting fires on fed­eral land in 2001 and 2006. One of the blazes was set to cover up deer poach­ing, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors.

The men served no more than a year un­til

an ap­peals court judge ruled that the terms fell short of min­i­mum sen­tences re­quir­ing them to serve about four more years.

Am­mon Bundy said he prayed about the mat­ter and “clearly un­der­stood that the Lord was not pleased with what was hap­pen­ing to the Ham­monds.”

The Ham­monds said they lit the fires to re­duce the growth of in­va­sive plants and pro­tect their property from wild­fires.

“I did ex­actly what the Lord asked me to do,” Bundy said in a YouTube video posted last week in which he ap­peals to like-minded peo­ple to join him in Ore­gon to protest against the treat­ment of the Ham­monds.

In the 2014 show­down with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties in Ne­vada, Cliven Bundy also jus­ti­fied his ac­tions in re­li­gious terms, say­ing that he de­cided to chal­lenge fed­eral agents af­ter pray­ing for guidance.

Their ide­ol­ogy aligns with a strain of anti-gov­ern­ment think­ing that was es­poused by some church lead­ers dur­ing the Cold War. But it is re­jected by main­stream Mor­mons to­day, ac­cord­ing to Matthew Bow­man, a pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can re­li­gion at Hen­der­son State Univer­sity in Arkansas.

Still, whether to sub­mit to church lead­ers or fol­low a per­sonal con­vic­tion re­mains “a deep and cen­tral tension within Mor­mon doc­trine and cul­ture,” Bow­man said.

The Bundy fam­ily’s dis­pute with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties dates to 1993, when land man­agers in Ne­vada cited con­cern for a fed­er­ally pro­tected tor­toise and capped Cliven Bundy’s herd at 150 an­i­mals on a 250-square-mile al­lot­ment of land. Of­fi­cials later re­voked Bundy’s graz­ing rights com­pletely. Fed­eral of­fi­cials’ at­tempts to round up the cat­tle were called off to avoid blood­shed.

Many lo­cals agree with Am­mon Bundy that the sec­ond Ham­mond sen­tence was too harsh. But they dis­ap­prove of Bundy’s oc­cu­pa­tion and fear it could lead to violence.

Am­mon Bundy, one of the sons of Ne­vada rancher Cliven Bundy, speaks Tues­day at Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, near Burns, Ore. Bundy has put him­self in the spot­light in a dis­pute over some­one else’s ranch­ing op­er­a­tion. His armed group is press­ing fed­eral au­thor­i­ties to turn over gov­ern­ment land to lo­cal con­trol. Rick Bowmer, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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