LAS VEGAS — A court appearance for a Nevada rancher at the center of a fight over control of public lands in the West drew more than 100 protesters to a Las Vegas federal courthouse where he's facing charges that he led an armed standoff against federal agents two years ago.
Cliven Bundy's wife and other family members joined friends, including some with guns on their hips and others wearing cowboy hats, waving American flags and carrying signs to protest the arrest of Cliven Bundy.
The scene was peaceful, with chants like "U-S-A!" and "The FBI lied and a man died!" and "Wake up America!" directed toward passing vehicles. Some motorists honked in support.
Jaime Spears, who traveled from St. Augustine, Florida, sold $20 T-shirts bearing the phrase "Whatever it takes." It recalls Bundy's vow to resist BLM efforts to round up cattle from public rangeland around his ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
"Cliven taught me to rope, so I'm forever grateful," Spears said.
The scene unfolded hours before Bundy was expected to tell a magistrate judge if he'd hired a lawyer, and to enter pleas to 16 charges in an indictment filed against him March 2. A detention hearing could be scheduled on another day.
"We're thanking everyone for their support and their prayers," family matriarch Carol Bundy said on the sidewalk. The mother of 14 maintained the federal government has no jurisdiction to hold her husband and four of her sons.
Nevada allows open-carrying of guns, and several men in the loose crowd had pistols — under the watchful eye of uniformed and plainclothes Las Vegas police and U.S. marshals and cameras in a conspicuous portable police surveillance tower.
"I'm allowed to do it. I'm just using my Second Amendment right," said Doug Larson, a Las Vegas truck driver who spent time at the Bundy home during the April 2014 standoff, and who turned out Thursday to again show his support.
Guns won't be allowed inside the courthouse where Cliven Bundy, 69, made his first appearance last Friday in custody amid tight security before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carl Hoffman.
Bundy was arrested Feb. 10 as he arrived at the Portland, Oregon, airport. He traveled there to visit his two sons jailed on charges that they led a 41-day armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. He then was returned in custody to Nevada.
In Las Vegas, Cliven Bundy heads a list of 19 people — including four Bundy sons — accused of leading the 2014 armed standoff to stop federal agents from rounding up cows from public land.
Cliven Bundy denies U.S. government authority over rangeland around his 160 acres. Federal Bureau of Land Management officials said in 2014 that he owed more than $1.1 million in fees and penalties for grazing hundreds of cows illegally for about 20 years.
Charges in the case to be tried in Las Vegas include conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, assaulting and threatening a federal officer, obstruction, interference with interstate commerce by extortion and several firearms charges. Convictions could result in penalties up to life in prison.