At Cliven Bundy's ranch in Nevada, the weather is unbearably hot, no one knows how to empty the toilets, and despite the controversy, it's pretty boring.
GQ magazine sent reporter Zach Baron out to Nevada in April to get inside the world of the notorious rancher, a week after stand-offs between Bundy and the government. Bundy, with a million-dollar tab from the government for letting his cattle graze on lands that didn’t belong to him, claimed the government couldn't own land or charge grazing fees. His militia backed him up, asking how a government could try and put a rancher out of business for letting cattle graze on unused land.
Later, when Bundy's racist views came to light—he was quoted in a New York Times report saying blacks were "better off as slaves" and later resurfaced those remarks during a press conference—Bundy and his militia lost many of their most high-profile endorsements.
Inside the camp—dubbed Tripwire or Liberty by the militia members and the Independent Sovereign Republic of Cliven Bundy by Baron—GQ takes us into the militia that dominated headlines for weeks when the small group essentially stopped the federal government from collecting their debts or punishing the perpetrator, simply because a group of people armed themselves and refused.
Here are the top four things we learned from the profile.
The desert isn’t the best place for clear-thinking, because it’s really, really hot
“It's April in the Nevada desert, not even 11 a.m., and the heat is already physical, like something you could lean on,” Baron writes at the start of the piece. It’s the first of a half dozen mentions of the blistering heat, blinding sun, and its effects on people. Moments later, Baron refers to himself as “half-hallucinating.”
“The republic is making me a bit crazy—some combination of the sun, the boredom, the guns, and absence of any real food or shelter at all. Also the loneliness of it. The republic is solitary, cut off, you feel it the minute you enter. It's a lot of psychic weight. It's also really sandy,” Baron writes.
As the presumably sweaty and dehydrated reporter is leaving the camp, he even goads an armed militia member over the lack of women at the camp.
“Maybe I'd been in the republic too long, or the heat was getting to me. For whatever reason, I couldn't help myself. 'I haven't seen a lot of Barbies out here,' I told him. I was taunting a guy who now had his hand on the sidearm at his waist,” Baron writes.
It’s also pretty boring
The action-hungry militia springs into action over a fallen comrade, but it’s later revealed that he’s fallen due to dehydration from the heat and sun.
Without a government to confront, the militia seems extremely bored.
The group’s presence is founded in Bundy’s need—or perceived need—for protection, so without aggressors, there’s not much to do. The group sits and waits, and waits some more, for something to happen. The story was reported just a week after the April stand-offs with the government, but the Bundy militia irritated Bunkersville neighbors for many weeks after that after as they waited for the government to return. As of this writing, the government has not yet returned.
No one knows how to empty the toilets
A week after the stand-off with federal agents attempting to seize Bundy’s cattle, the latrines are very full and the camp organizers aren’t totally sure how to empty them. The camp is filled with people from across the country, but seeing as it’s situated in an old gravel pit in a blistering hot desert, the infrastructure is limited.
“I wander out to them. The latrines are indeed kind of full,” Baron writes. “My eyes water with the smell of freedom.”
At the end of the day, these people are just trying to find meaning in the sun with their guns
Baron sees a rag-tag group of armed men who want for greatness, but just aren’t finding it.
“[B]ack home they were carpenters, contractors, mechanics, repairmen, at loose ends. They were white men, mostly, who felt like this country had once been theirs and now was not. They talked about dying to indicate the significance and severity of their cause. It was an understandable thing: The people in the republic had left the kind of placid, dull lives the rest of us were still leading in order to make a stand, even if they didn't all agree on what that stand was. They were here not so much to found a republic as to defend one. They wanted to be the type of people who saw a wrong and moved to remedy it. Waco, Ruby Ridge—those days were remembered. Those present in those terrible moments had been right and had died for it. To the people in the republic, that was a fair trade,” Baron writes.