Adrian Sewell, the New Mexico rancher who joined armed protesters occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon last weekend, says he doesn’t want violence. The fight, he says, is about the right people have to use public lands.
“The message is we want everybody to freely use public lands,” Sewell said Thursday during an interview with a radio host at KQTH-FM in Tucson, Ariz. “… We especially do not want any violence whatsoever.”
Sewell, who has a ranch in Grant County near Silver City, renounced his grazing contract with the U.S. Forest Service last week at the protest in Oregon. Media reported that he was the only rancher to do so, but Sewell said during the interview that ranchers from Oregon, Utah and Arizona joined him.
Sewell and others say they are concerned about federal overreach in a number of areas related to regulation of public lands. Aamon Bundy, a rancher who led the Oregon protest until his arrest on Tuesday, asserts that the federal government has no authority over lands that it leases for grazing.
Bundy was arrested during a traffic stop near the wildlife refuge. Also at that traffic stop, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, the spokesman for the group, was shot and killed by law enforcement. Much of Sewell’s radio interview focused on Finicum.
Sewell said after he and his wife began ranching in the Gila National Forest, they ran into problems with the federal government. Asked for specifics, he said ranchers “definitely don’t have the cooperation of these agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.” He complained about the way the Endangered Species Act and archeological rules limit grazing.
“They just try to regulate you out of business,” Sewell said.
He mentioned Kit Laney, a New Mexico rancher who was sentenced to five months in federal prison in 2004 for assaulting or resisting a federal officer and obstructing a court order. Laney was arrested during a roundup of his cattle that he maintained was illegal. “The couple, who fought the U.S. Forest Service over grazing for a decade, did not have a permit to graze the cattle in the Gila,” The Associated Press reported.
Regardless, Sewell said during the radio interview that Laney “was one of the first people ever bullied off the land.”
“Then we knew the stakes were high and we knew we could be bullied of this land if we disagreed with these people,” he said.
Which eventually led Sewell to Oregon, where he met Bundy and Finicum and participated in his first protest last weekend. Sewell spoke during the interview about Finicum’s character, smile, charisma and devotion to his faith and family.
“I’m honored to be taking up and push forward the trail that he was blazing ahead, and I know that all he wanted was he wanted for young men and women, or whoever, to be able to ranch, or farm, and to live their dreams and be able to be protected under the law to do that,” Sewell said.
Finicum, Sewell said, “was obviously murdered in cold blood standing up for multiple use on public lands.” Sewell said all he ever saw the deceased rancher carry was “an old cowboy six-shooter” and said he “wasn’t calling for any violence at all.”
After the radio interview, the FBI released video taken from an aircraft flying overhead at the time of Tuesday’s traffic shop. Before he was shot, the video “appears to show [Finicum] reaching for a pocket that police say contained a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun,” the Oregonian reported.
Watch the video here:
Earlier Thursday, Bundy released a second statement asking those remaining at the wildlife refuge to go home.
“Turn yourselves in and do not use physical force,” he said. “… I am committed to freedom not force. Freedom not force. We are done with the culture of force. We are done with the government pointing guns at us to enforce their will upon the people. This is not liberty. This is not America.”
Still, a handful of protesters remain at the wildlife refuge. Whether Sewell is with them isn’t clear. He hasn’t responded to NMPolitics.net’s requests for an interview and made no mention of his location during the radio interview.