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New Podcast Examines Bundy Revolution

NBC News

Last week, we reported on a new movie that takes a look at the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. This week, a new podcast is being released by a former Spokane reporter on the controversial Bundy family that was behind the standoff.

“In 2014 in Bunkerville, Nevada, Cliven Bundy and his family had their cattle rounded up by the federal government for failing to pay grazing fees. To hear them tell it, what they did next was gather posse to get their cattle back. They’d really like to be seen as cowboys," reads Leah Sottile as part of her podcast, "and for the last two years I’ve been reporting on the Bundy family trying to figure out what they’re doing in the West. If this is about cows, why did they take over a wildlife refuge in Oregon.”

Leah Sottile is a resident of Portland, but she used to work as a writer for The Inlander in Spokane. Now working as a freelance writer, Sottile has contributed articles to the Washington Post and Rolling Stone magazine. Now she has teamed up with Oregon Public Broadcasting to produce a multi-part podcast called “Bundyville”. The production looks at the family of ClivenBundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon, the armed uprisings they have inspired, and the fight over the future of the American West.

For starters, Sottile looked into the history of the family, which had settled on land in Nevada in the 1890’s.

Cliven Bundy has been making the argument that he does not owe grazing fees to the federal government, because the Nevada land he operates on has been in his family for years. But Sottile says her research indicated that’s not true.

“I just wanted to see if there was any merit to that at all. I went as far back as I could into the family history. I read of couple of books written by his ancestors in the Bunkerville area, just trying to unpack if the land belonged to him, and I couldn’t find any straight, clear connection,” she said.

Sottile says when federal officials fined the senior Bundy for not having grazing permits in 2014, some of his cattle were found so far away from his ranch on federal land, they had gone feral.

The production looks at those who have become followers of the Bundy family. Sottile says anti-government sentiments have been building in the West for years, and for many, the Bundy’s revolution came at the right time. She says for some, the Bundys' influence led to a complete transformation.

She cites the example of LaVoy Finicum, the man shot down by the FBI during the standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Reserve, in Oregon. She says BLM officials said Finicum had been a model rancher, who always paid his grazing fees:

“Then he went to the Bundy ranch and it was like he radicalized there in 2014, and decided to toss out his grazing contract and started making YouTube videos about his fight with the federal government," Sottile said.

"You talk to the reporters at OPB, about their interviews with Finicum at the refuge in Oregon, and they talked about him like he was the nicest, easiest, most approachable person to talk to, which is a very different person in the video of his shooting by police. He is saying shoot me, shoot me in the head, or let me go through,” Sottile said.

She says the failure to convict the Bundys for the Malheur standoff, coupled with the declaration of a mistrial for the Nevada ranch standoff has given some more credibility to their story.

“With the mistrial happening in Nevada, I think it gives the government a bit of an issue, because they tell the world the Bundys are a bunch of domestic terrorists. It kind of calls that into question, because the people saying that are actually hiding evidence and things like that. I think if the Bundys had been found guilty, it would just be over and done with,” she said.

Sottile worked with an OPB producer to put together the story, and had access to OPB’s sound from reporters covering the Malheur takeover. The stories are being published on the website “Longreads,” which archives journalism efforts from a number of sources.

The 7 part podcast series will be released Tuesday, May 15th. You can subscribe to “Bundyville” on NPR One, Apple podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts.


Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.
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