Leah Sottile | Longreads | May 2018 | 29 minutes (7,300 words)
Since Cliven Bundy took in his first desert breath as a free man this past January, the old cowboy has found himself more in ballrooms and meeting rooms and on stages across the West than back in the saddles he fought so hard to sit in again.
Just two days after his release, he stood in front of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department in Las Vegas, bullhorn in hand, goading the sheriff to come outside: “Is this man going to stand up and protect our life, liberty, and property?” he asked the small crowd gathered around him, smartphones livestreaming his words. The sheriff never emerged.
“My defense is a fifteen-second defense: I graze my cattle only on Clark County, Nevada, land, and I have no contract with the federal government,” Bundy told his flock.
Later that month, on a rural Montana stage flanked by ruffled red curtains, there he stood in jeans and boots and an ash-gray sport coat as a crowd of a couple hundred welcomed him with whoops and whistles fit for rural royalty. “I have a fifteen-second defense,” he said. The crowd listened, rapt.
And there he was again, in February, on an amateur YouTube talk show, in a blue plaid shirt and bolo tie, expounding for well beyond 15 seconds on his ideas about government.
If Cliven Bundy was a star among constitutional literalists after the standoff in 2014, two years in jail transformed the old man and his family into the full-fledged glitterati of the far, far right.
His trademark 15-second defense line is mostly true: Cliven has no contract with the federal government and, yet, continues to graze his cows illegally on public land. Read more…