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Bombings Tied to Nye County’s Land Dispute With Feds

August 11, 1995

TONOPAH, Nev. (AP) _ Nye County is so vast a man can walk for miles in solitude, encountering little but cows and scrubland in an area the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

But make no mistake: Land is precious in these parts _ precious enough, some believe, to explain two bombings apparently aimed at a U.S. Forest Service official.

Backers of the reborn Sagebrush Rebellion _ as the battle between state and local governments over millions of acres of public land is known _ deny any connection to the violence. They say they fight their battles in court.

``Let me assure you that nobody within our circle would have done anything that stupid,″ said Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, a leader of the effort to give states control of federal land. ``We’ve been working too long and too hard to blow it with something like this.″

But after a second bomb on Aug. 4 destroyed a van belonging to the official responsible for much of western Nevada’s Forest Service land, suspicion fell on backers of the movement.

``Acts like this and others have been legitimized by anti-government rhetoric of those in positions of responsibility who should know better,″ Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor.

The Nevada Legislature sparked the original Sagebrush Rebellion in 1979 when it passed laws purporting to return all public lands to state control. The laws were never enforced.

But at least 36 counties across the West are fighting the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management over range management, logging, mining permits and water rights in this latest rebellion, which began in 1993 when the Nye County Commission passed resolutions rejecting federal control.

Carver provoked federal officials again last summer when he climbed onto a bulldozer and, ignoring the pleas of a Forest Service agent, opened a long-closed road on federal land.

In March, three weeks after the Justice Department sued Nye County over the land dispute, a small bomb exploded outside the office of District Ranger Guy Pence on Carson City’s main street, blowing out a window and damaging walls. The building was unoccupied at the time.

A phone call followed to Jim Nelson, supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests. ``You’re next,″ the caller said.

Then, early this month, hours after the judge asked for more information from both sides in the lawsuit, a bomb ripped through Pence’s van outside his Carson City house. He wasn’t home, but his wife and children were. They escaped injury.

Federal workers also were unsettled by a still-unsolved bombing on Halloween 1993 that ripped a hole in the roof of the unoccupied Bureau of Land Management building in Reno.

Investigators said they haven’t found evidence linking the bombings, and aren’t even sure whether the target of the office attack was Pence, who had worked in Tonopah before moving to Carson City, about 180 miles away, a few years ago.

Nye County commissioners responded by saying they abhor violence and offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

Still, Reid said on the Senate floor Monday that the case ``demonstrates the very real danger of extremist elements within the county supremacy movement.″

``The rule of law must apply to everyone,″ Reid said. ``The alternative is anarchy.″

John W. Howard, a lawyer helping Nye County in court, challenged Reid to produce evidence linking the movement to the bombings.

Cameron McRae, chairman of the commission, said he was tired of the news media linking Nye County to these ``half-brained violent acts without coming down here to actually see what we’re doing.″

To come down to Tonopah is to take a step back in time. The triangular opening to the Mizpah Mine towers over the town, serving as a reminder of the silver boom that went bust shortly after the turn of the century.

Midway between Reno and Las Vegas, Tonopah stretches for a couple of miles along U.S. 95, where a driver who spots a friend driving by may make a quick U-turn and pull his pickup alongside for a chat.

It’s the seat of government in a county so sprawling that the population amounts to about one person for each of its 18,064 square miles. But the federal government controls fully 93 percent of the land.

And while Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has called for disarming federal rangers, citizens of Tonopah wouldn’t wish that on themselves. Here, gun racks have guns in them. So do glove compartments and a few holsters.

Nye County claims the 10th Amendment cedes control of most public lands to the states.

``The future of America rests on this case,″ said Carver, who carries a copy of the Constitution in his shirt pocket.

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