At a time when most of the news on television is at some level fake, the 2014 standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada stood out as a real event. Here was no pseudo-spectacle thrown together for the cameras. Cliven Bundy, a Mormon rancher in Nevada, had a real quarrel with the Bureau of Land Management, and their armed confrontation had real stakes in terms of whether the federal government would succeed in rounding up and confiscating the stubborn rancher’s cattle over a regulatory dispute. It came down to a test of nerves, and the underdogs won and made the BLM back down. It could hardly have been more cinematic if they had scripted it.
Journalist James Pogue has written the best book of the half dozen published about the Bundys, Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West. His advantage lay partly in access. He knew many of the cast of characters—including LaVoy Finicum, the sole fatality of the standoffs—from years of covering anti-BLM protests elsewhere in the West. He is also the best guide to the underlying policy issues. When Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity turned the Bundys into media celebrities, the focus was on their glamour as cowboys. But Cliven and his sons Ammon and Ryan were not just romantic; they had a point.