The conflict between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and federal officials over Bundy's claim to access to federal land may be unfolding many, many miles from Elkhart County.
That doesn't mean it's a non-issue here or should be ignored, says Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers.
To the contrary. Rogers has been following the situation, a lightning rod for states' rights activists and critics of federal government overreach. And he traveled over the weekend to the focal point of the conflict, Bunkerville, Nev. — invited by reps from Oath Keepers and others — to get a first-hand look at what's going on.
People here "should be concerned about what's occurring in other states, states like Nevada, Oregon and New Mexico and California, areas, I believe, where the federal government is overreaching in their authority and capacity," he said Monday, April 21, a day after returning.
Rogers, a Republican, is outspoken in his criticism of federal government overreach and support of state and local authority. He clashed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late 2011 over the federal agency's moves to crack down on an Elkhart County producer of raw milk and the FDA has since backed off.
"It goes to show you local officials, whether county commissioners or sheriffs, can make an impact on issues relating to county and state business," he said. "They can make an impact on a local level when the federal government is getting involved."
In the Nevada case, rancher Cliven Bundy has been involved in a 20-plus year dispute with federal U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials over fines and fees he faces for grazing cattle on federal land. The feds have called for a stop to grazing by Bundy and others, in part over concern about a federally protected tortoise. But Bundy has cited his family's use of federal land dating back for generations, among other things, and the situation has grown increasingly tense of late, with armed Bundy backers on one side and federal officials on the other.
"We know that this can happen in Elkhart County," Rogers said. Maybe Elkhart County isn't a focus of Bureau of Land Management officials, but "it could be another alphabet soup federal government (agency) that could be out of control."
Though sympathetic to Bundy, he didn't express out-and-out support for him or out-and-out opposition to federal authorities. "Let me just say, I'm not so clear that Mr. Bundy is correct. This is a complex issue," he said.
Rather, his goal was to get the local sheriff, Clark County, Nev., Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, to get involved, to serve as a mediator, of sorts, between Bundy and federal representatives. He didn't meet with Gillespie, said Gillespie is "not approachable," but he conveyed his message through the media there.
There's "going to be bloodshed if somebody doesn't step in," he said. "This is not going to go well if the federal government raids that place."
Rogers, who arrived in Nevada on Friday and returned to Elkhart County on Sunday, said he was invited by the Bundy family and that the invitation was conveyed through reps from Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Rogers is a member of both groups, which assert the right of local authority and decry federal government overreach, and Oath Keepers covered the costs of his visit.
He used vacation time, he said, and kept tabs on Elkhart County matters while he was in Nevada. He expressed hesitancy about traveling to Nevada again, but said other like-minded sheriffs will be going there.