Invoking God and railing against government and environmentalist interference, Ammon Bundy spoke at the Range Rights and Resources Symposium at the Modesto Junior College West Campus Saturday afternoon.
The two-day national symposium attracted a crowd of about 50 attendees. But its main attraction was an address by Bundy, a member of a Western ranching family that made national headlines in recent years after engaging in armed standoffs with authorities about the use of federal lands.
Calling America a "bible nation," Bundy warned against environmental groups who believed in the Earth over God.
"In the scripture, in the bible, we have guidance on what we are to do and how we are to act and what is our right and what the Earth was created for. What the animals are for, what the grass is for, what the trees are for, what the fruit is for," Bundy told the attendees inside the MJC Ag Pavillion. "Do we see a different doctrine? Do these different doctrines affect us? .... What if I told you that these people, these individuals or groups, if they are allowed to continue with their plans that they will entirely destroy the happiness of human life?"
The Bundys made headlines in 2014 when the Bureau of Land Management took cattle from Ammon Bundy's father's Nevada ranch over unpaid fees for grazing the cattle on federal land. Hundreds of Bundy supporters joined in an armed standoff until the federal agents withdrew.
Then in 2016, Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan led an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. A jury acquitted the Bundy brothers and five of their supporters later that year of all charges related to the 41-day refuge occupation. This January, after spending two years in prison, Ammon Bundy saw his charges for his involvement in the 2014 Nevada standoff dismissed by a federal judge.
Since his release, the nonprofit environmental group Center for Biological Diversity has been protesting some of Bundy's appearances. About a dozen local protesters joined leaders from the group, based out of Arizona, to hold signs and chant slogans outside the pavilion before Bundy began his talk.
Ryan Beam, a public land campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, said they wanted to come to the Modesto event to counter Bundy's message, which espouses the largely unfettered private use of public land.
"Our main mission to make sure the lies they tell get exposed.." Beam said. "They think they can do whatever they want on public lands as long as they have enough cowboy hats and guns."
Four counter protesters, carrying large American flags and distinctive yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags, engaged in some back-and-forth with the environmental protestors and had their own signs complaining of government overreach.
During his hour-long talk, Bundy touched on topics like the recent drought and told the assembled crowd that "the water shortage is a lie." He cited fresh water discharge into the ocean and a failure to collect enough of rainwater. He also claimed that any moisture that escapes the atmosphere is replaced by asteroid ice entering the atmosphere.
In 2010, scientists using NASA telescopes indeed found a thin layer of ice on an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, which led them to theorize an asteroid strike may be the initial origin of Earth's water. But no research points to asteroids continued replenishing of the planet's water.
Bundy also warned of collusion between the government and environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity. He said their beliefs run counter to the human species' survival.
"Who in their right mind would do what they are doing? Who would destroy the ranches, destroy the dams, destroy the farms? Who would do that? Only someone who does not want humans to be fed, for them to live in a place they want to live, to be able to enjoy life and, as the founders said, to pursue happiness," he said. "They are an enemy to humans. They live by a different doctrine. And it is not based upon Christian principals. It is based upon a completely different theology."
This was the third annual Range Rights and Resources Symposium, which came to Modesto thanks to the work of John Duarte, the owner of Hughson-based Duarte Nursery. On the first day of the event Friday, embattled House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, made an unlisted appearance and talked for about 30 minutes. Outgoing Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson also spoke on Saturday before Bundy's speech.
"This is about farmers and ranchers having the right to produce food," Duarte said of the event.