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The grazing rights battle between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government, resulting in a tense, armed standoff between Bundy’s supporters and federal law enforcement officers, garnered international media attention in 2014. Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens places the Bundy conflict into the larger context of the Sagebrush Rebellion and the long struggle over the use of federal public lands in the American West.
Author John L. Smith skillfully captures the drama of the Bundy legal tangle amid the current political climate. Although no shots were fired during the standoff itself, just weeks later self-proclaimed Bundy supporters murdered two Las Vegas police officers and a civilian. In Eastern Oregon, other Bundy supporters occupied the federal offices of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and one of them died in a hail of bullets.
While examining the complex history of federal public land policies, Smith exposes both sides of this story. He shows that there are passionate true believers on opposite sides of the insurrection, along with government agents and politicians in Washington complicit in efforts to control public lands for their wealthy allies and campaign contributors. With the promise of billions of dollars in natural resource profits and vast tracts of environmentally sensitive lands hanging in the balance, the West’s latest range war is the most important in the nation’s history. This masterful exposé raises serious questions about the fate of America’s public lands and the vehement arguments that are framing the debate from all sides.
About the Author
Nevada native, John L. Smith is a freelance writer, journalist, and author of more than a dozen books, including The Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice. He writes an award-winning weekly column for The Nevada Independent, and is a contributor to Nevada Public Radio’s “State of Nevada” and a wide range of publications. An award-winning columnist, in 2016 he was inducted into the Nevada Press Association Hall of Fame. In the same year, Smith and his colleagues were honored with the James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, the Ancil Payne Award from the University of Oregon, and the Society of Professional Journalists Award for Ethics.
“Smith opens with a detailed and often breath-taking recounting of that tense confrontation in April 2014 between Bureau of Land Management and other federal agents and heavily armed sympathizers of rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons, analyzing the issues and motivations of the cast of rather colorful and often charismatic characters. . . . This thoroughly researched book provides thoughtful insight into a controversial issue that doubtless will continue for years to come.: —Thomas Mitchell, Elko Daily Free Press
"Most of America still finds Cliven Bundy and his “war” against the Fed incoherent, because most of us are clueless about western public land ranching and puzzled by the country’s right-wing militias. In yet another of his first-rate pieces of investigative journalism, veteran Nevada writer John Smith puts you on the inside of both stories."
—Dan Flores, New York Times bestselling author
"Sometimes history seems not to make sense but to be a riot of discordant ideas, weird cultural tides, and deluded personalities. As John L. Smith tells the tale, the showdown between law enforcement officers and misnamed “patriots” at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch in 2014 included all that and more. If you seek to know the birthplace of our “post-factual” world, Smith offers a prime candidate. From rangeland to courtroom, Bundy and his sons have helped to create a dangerous new American West where theater is reality and truth is whatever the loudest shouter claims it to be."
—William deBuys, author of A Great Aridness and The Last Unicorn
“This is a thoroughly modern western: a classic cast of cowboys and vigilantes keenly savvy about social media and talk-show soundbites. As Smith deftly demonstrates, Bundy’s “Range War” provoked on-going internecine battles over public lands that fuel much of the bitter partisanism at the core of contemporary American politics.”
—Sara Dant, author of Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West
"What this author brings to the table is a deep understanding of Nevada history and the political rivers running through it. Unlike other writers, he understands the state and the players as well as anyone."
—Geoff Schumacher, author of Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia and Palace Intrigue