By John Glionna Los Angeles Times
Are you heading to Bunkerville/To stand up and fight?
Are you heading to Bunkerville/For your freedom and rights?
Are you heading to Bunkerville/To stand up with me?
— From the song “Are You Heading to Bunkerville?” by Wayne and Paula Carson
BUNKERVILLE, Nev. — Susan DeLemus watched as her man headed to Bunkerville.
The Rochester, N.H., resident was trolling the computer earlier this month with her husband, Jerry, when she saw him stiffen with surprise and rage at what he saw on his own computer screen.
He turned to his wife: “You’ve got to see this.”
He showed her a YouTube video about the tense face-off between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government over grazing rights on hundreds of thousands of acres of land run by the Bureau of Land Management.
Following a two-decades-long court battle over Bundy’s refusal to pay an estimated $1 million in grazing fees, BLM officials took action: Agents moved in to collect hundreds of Bundy’s cattle as the irate rancher looked on.
Immediately, supporters rallied to this small ranching town 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Some of them brought guns — self-proclaimed citizen soldiers who vowed to protect Bundy from what they called an overreaching federal government.
Jerry DeLemus saw a news report and asked his wife to find Bundy’s number. She came up with it after a quick Internet search. Within minutes, Jerry was on the phone with Bundy at his ranch.
What could he do? he asked. “Please come,” Bundy implored.
Jerry DeLemus was headed to Bunkerville.
“I told him, ‘You ought to leave tomorrow — don’t wait. It’s a long drive,’” Susan DeLemus recalled telling her husband. “I knew he needed to go. I believe in him and what he’s doing. I’m one of those wives who are just going to stand behind their man no matter what he does.”
Susan DeLemus said she couldn’t go because she had to take care of her ailing mother.
Along with his grown son and an old friend, the 59-year-old self-employed contractor, NRA member, Harley-Davidson motorcycle rider and grandfather drove 41 hours straight to reach the cattle ranch. He carried with him a yellow flag with a coiled snake that bore the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
Jerry DeLemus said the three talked all the way about how they’d felt repressed by a federal government that no longer listened to them. They had to take a stand, they decided. After all, they hailed from a state whose motto is “Live Free or Die.”
Jerry DeLemus called his wife from the road. Her words blew wind into his sails.
“I never second-guessed him,” she said. “Our government is in a mess and it’s lawless. Our Constitution has been gutted and trampled upon.”
Within days after the ranch standoff began, hundreds of militia had arrived by Bundy’s side. They had semiautomatic rifles and dressed in military fatigues. They formed picket lines over an overpass of I-15 as BLM helicopters rounded up the cattle.
Then the federal government blinked. Officials called off the roundup, saying they feared an armed confrontation. Then officials did something even more unexpected: They released hundreds of Bundy livestock back out onto the land.
Jerry DeLemus and the other Bundy supporters, some on horseback, helped herd the animals back onto the desert scrubland — and they declared a victory in what they call the Battle of Bunkerville.
A few days ago, a video hit YouTube, written and performed by Wayne and Paula Carson. Playing much like an old Marlboro cigarette commercial, “Are You Heading to Bunkerville?” uses twangy guitars and a crooning country-western vocalist over pictures of American flags, citizen militia on horseback and rancher Bundy, signature white cowboy hat on his head.
Sitting at a “citizen-soldier” base called Camp Tripwire, Jerry DeLemus said he liked it a lot. “It’s about real people,” he said.
They’re just good old boys, like you and me/Working Americans. We are supposed to be free
These are the cattlemen who are standing their ground from the man who needs money from this dusty little town.
So are you heading to bunkerville/ranchers and cowhands
Are you heading to Bunkerville?
Meanwhile, federal officials plotted their next move.
Some have called for congressional hearings. Others say the federal courts should handle the matter. In debates in Washington, on TV reports and on the Internet, Bundy has been called everything from a federal freeloader to a national patriot.
Then this week came another word: Racist.
In an interview with a New York Times reporter, the 67-year-old rancher suggested that African-Americans were “better off as slaves” because slavery taught work skills and enhanced family life.
A public firestorm erupted. Some conservative lawmakers who had supported Bundy backed off, denouncing his statements. Harry Reid, Nevada’s senior senator and Senate majority leader, called Bundy a “hateful racist.”
On Friday, Bundy released a statement reiterating his views that the federal government was heavy-handed against all Americans.
“What I am saying is that all we Americans are trading one form of slavery for another. All of us are in some measure slaves of the federal government,” his statement said.
“And the government dole which many people in America are on, and have been for much of their lives, is dehumanizing and degrading. It takes away incentive to work and self-respect. Eventually a person on the dole becomes a ward of the government, because his only source of income is a dole from the government. Once the government has you in that position, you are its slave.”
Jerry DeLemus is still in Bunkerville. He is the commander of Camp Tripwire. He doesn’t know how long he’s going to stay.
Every day, sometimes twice, he calls Susan back home.
“We’ve been married for 10 years and this is the longest we’ve ever been separated,” she said. “It would be great to see him and have him come home. But I understand. I just understand.”
She said she hopes her husband does not have to fire his weapon, that federal authorities do not try to take the ranch by force.
In the unlikely event anything ever happened to her husband, she said, she’d run for Congress on this platform: “Live Free or Die.”
Are you heading to Bunkerville/To show your support/From an overtaxing government who wants only to distort?
They like changing the laws to suit their needs/And neglecting the laws they don’t heed
A stroke of a pen from an arrogant man/No more home of the brave.
The American flag is so sadly being thrown to its grave.