Richard Mack, a former Arizona county sheriff, was one of the better known activists to voice support for Bundy Ranch during its long-running standoff with federal officials over cattle grazing rights. In recent days, as tensions rose, he eventually made his way up to the Nevada ranch to join the fight.
In an interview with TPM on Wednesday, Mack portrayed a scene where the protesters genuinely believed they could be killed by federal agents at any moment. But he also backed off one of the more striking claims he’d made during the standoff. He caught national attention on Monday when he said the protesters were “strategizing to put all the women up at the front” in case the federal officials fired on them. He later said it “was a tactical ploy that I was trying to get them to use.”
But Mack backtracked somewhat and told TPM he was mistaken when he said those things. The women had volunteered to go to the front, he said.
“The mistake I made was it was never a strategy. It was never strategized. It was never talked about. The women just did it,” he said. “I was never privy to that, so I thought they did strategize that. I thought that would be the only way they would send women up to the front.”
TPM: First, I wanted to ask how you heard about Bundy Ranch and why it interested you.
Richard Mack: There’s probably not too many people there who could say this, but I’ve known the Bundys for about 20 years. It’s because of my involvement in the freedom movement. I was asked to speak at a lot of land rights and states’ rights meetings, and Clive Bundy was there.
Could you talk a little bit about what you found when you got up there?
One of our CSPOA (Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which Mack founded) members who was there earlier and got there before I did was phoning me and telling me that they were going to be killed. The federal snipers, several of them — I don’t know if you know this — but they were paid mercenaries. They’re contractors. They’re paid hit men.
He saw all the equipment and all the military weaponry that they had, and then he said, ‘Sheriff, they warned us that they were going to arrest us. Then they warned us that they were going to shoot us. I’m calling to tell you that they’re going to shoot us.’ He’s a 15-year law enforcement veteran that was telling me this. He said, ‘Please tell my wife that I love her, and I hope to see you later, but I don’t think so.’
I, at that time, went around the two lanes of traffic onto the side of the road, which is illegal to do, and I turned on my flashers. I buzzed it up there, and I got there right after that part finished, where my guy was that called me. The sheriff had just left, and he was the one that I think made a big difference.
All the people that were there watching, it was about 600, 700 people. My son and I stood there and watched in reverence at one of the most patriotic moments I’ve ever been a part of. There was about 500 people, all with tears running down their cheeks, watching these cowboys and cowgirls take these cattle back to their proper place.
So had the situation more or less diffused by the time you got there?
Um, mostly. Yeah, I would say mostly. There were still a couple of tense moments. All the agents hadn’t left yet. It looked like they were still trying to get in the way a little bit. But there were a couple of deputy sheriffs there watching them, and they pulled back. They definitely pulled back.
So either while you were there or in talking to other people, did they also give the impression or did you get the impression that it was a life-or-death situation?
Yes. One of the reporters from Fox, he was more of a camera man but he had a lot of other capability, he was going around with a camera, and he said, ‘There was no question in my mind that they were going to shoot us.’
And that seemed to be shared by everybody that was there?
Everybody that was there thought the same thing, including the women.
One thing that interested me is your idea that this is a pattern following Waco, Ruby Ridge, Kent State. That this all fits in a broader narrative, and the Bundy Ranch situation was one piece of a larger story. Could you elaborate on what you see that larger narrative as?
The federal government has been turning off the water to farms in California. The George Bush administration turned off the water in the Klamath Falls Basin in Oregon. Destroying farms and ranchers and mining and logging has been an agenda item with Republican and Democrat presidents and administrations. So we’re just baffled at all of that.
Most Republicans and Democrats have had the same agenda: to diminish the food supply, to go after farmers and ranchers, put them out of business with impunity. Not caring one iota that when they turned off the water to Napa Valley, that affected such a huge part of our food supply, raised the prices of fruits, vegetables and nuts, 50 percent for the entire country. They don’t care. I just wonder how these presidents say they’re trying to promote industry in this country, and they’re shutting it down all the time.
I just don’t get these liars, and their feet aren’t held to the fire by the national media. Even though some of these media sources actually showed what was happening in Klamath Falls and San Joaquin Valley, and yet nothing happened. I made an announcement that the sheriffs in California should have just gone up to the base of that dam where they shut off the water and turn it on. They can take a court order if they wanted to, but if the judge won’t back them up on it, just go do it anyway.
Take care of your people. Restore the water. People can’t live without water. Put these people back to work and help America all at the same time. It is the federal government that keeps shutting everybody down. And it is the federal government that has shut down 53 ranchers in Clark County (Nev.) alone, except for Mr. Bundy. He’s the 53rd. He’s the last one standing.
People, I cannot believe, support this government in any way, shape or form. Anybody who supports that is a crook and a traitor and ought to be sent to Guantanamo Bay.
And you really think the government would be willing to kill people to advance their agenda?
They have before and they will again. As a law enforcement officer looking at all this, people don’t like to get dressed up for the dance and not be able to dance. They wanted to dance.
I saw your comments about strategizing to put the women up at the front, in case they did start firing it’d be women who were getting shot. I wanted to ask where you got that idea in the first place and why you thought it was a good idea.
I never thought it was a good idea. I was kind of surprised by the fact that they did. The mistake I made was it was never a strategy. It was never strategized. It was never talked about. The women just did it. I was never privy to that, so I thought they did strategize that. I thought that would be the only way they would send women up to the front.
I didn’t suggest it. I didn’t want it. I was surprised to see it. When I found out, I was really shocked that they had just gone on their own.
Because what I saw was you’re saying “We were strategizing.”
That’s what I thought happened, but I was wrong. But there is no question the women were there on every threat that was there with the cowboys and the one that was going to get shot as they went up to the corral to let the cows out. There were women right there.
The other thing I had seen was your saying that you had sources in the federal government who said there was still a raid being planned, that this wasn’t over. I wanted to confirm that that was true and ask why you think people within the federal government would tell you that.
Because they’re really upset about the way the Bundys are being treated and by the underhanded nature of this entire siege. One cop and one federal cop have told us some of the things that they’ve overheard and that they’ve been privy to. And they don’t mind telling us because they don’t like what’s going on.
Have they given you any more details beyond that a raid would still happen?
No. In fact, the word is since we exposed it publicly that they’re going back to the drawing board.
So to wrap it up, do you think this is over then?
No. No, it’s not. We certainly won a round here, maybe one of the little battles. And I would hope it would be over. I’ve asked the federal agents to refuse to go back there, to lay down their arms.
They have to be better people than that, to allow their supervisors and this government to put them in a position of shooting law-abiding Americans and to cause another incident like that and to have their names associated with such a disaster and catastrophe. I just can’t believe that they could do that. For a paycheck or a pension, you would be willing to do that? I can’t believe that they would.
Please, put your arms down and go home and tell your supervisors that you won’t go do something like that.
Do you think, in this situation or another, that bloodshed is inevitable, based on what we’ve seen in the last week or so?
I’ve dedicated my life to avoiding and preventing the bloodshed that the federal government keeps pushing the envelope on.
I would love for federal bureaucracies to follow the law and follow the Constitution, but they don’t. I would love the IRS to stop violating the constitutional rights of Americans. Stop the random audits. Stop the monitoring. Stop the checking, putting innocent people in prisons like they’ve done for decades. I would love the NSA to stop doing the illegal wiretapping and monitoring every fax and computer and phone transmission. I would love our federal government to follow the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
But they’re not going to. The track record and the history of all of this shows that they won’t. That is what’s frustrating the American people, that we can’t have our own government follow the rules.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Photo credit: YouTube.