Cliven Bundy is not a fan of walls.
A hero to some in the far-right due to his family's armed standoffs with the US government, the Nevada rancher is an avid supporter of Donald Trump. But there's one major issue where they diverge.
"I really question his doctrine since he started building a wall," Bundy, 72, told the Guardian on Wednesday. "I do not like walls. I think we oughta be able to get along with neighbors … Trump's wall never did sit very good with me. "
The Bundy family is getting renewed attention this week as unexpected critics of the president's anti-immigrant agenda after the US fired teargas at migrants, including children, at the Mexico border. The objections of the Bundy men – who were jailed for almost two years and are celebrated by anti-government militias – add to the list of rightwing voices condemning Trump for his attacks on migrants seeking asylum.
Cliven and his sons Ammon and Ryan were famously prosecuted after their family's longstanding refusal to pay grazing fees for their Nevada cattle, which escalated to an armed conflict with authorities at their ranch in 2014. In 2016, the two sons continued their protests of federal land regulation and the government's treatment of ranchers with a takeover of an Oregon wildlife national refuge, which ended in mass arrests.
In stunning victories for the family and their supporters, US prosecutors failed to convict the Bundys in both cases, and Trump later pardoned two ranchers in Oregon whose imprisonment had sparked the shelter standoff.
Despite the links between the White House and the Bundy's rightwing causes, Ammon surprised some of his followers on Tuesday with a lengthy Facebook video challenging some of the president's positions and expressing sympathy for migrants seeking to enter the US.
Ammon criticized the conspiracy theories about the migrants and claims that "they're all a bunch of terrorists," saying: "That's a bunch of garbage." He also acknowledged the violence migrants are fleeing: "The conditions in Honduras are indeed terrible … Many of the refugees have testified that they had lost a husband or a mother or a brother or sister or children and that they have been threatened. "
He said some anti-immigrant arguments are "fear-based" and "based upon selfishness."
Reached by phone, Cliven said he agreed with some of his son's arguments.
"Are they good people or bad people? If they're good people looking for refuge, we're Americans and we should have a heart and we should try to help them, "he said, noting the harrowing journeys some likely have taken. "How much suffering and effort are they putting forth to get to our border? They are after some freedom and liberty and a better life. "
Cliven, however, said it was "hard to tell what the truth is" and referenced unsubstantiated reports that migrants could be earning payments to be part of the caravan. Trump and other Republicans have repeated baseless claims that Democrats were funding the migrants, and Ammon acknowledged these falsehoods on the "conservative side."
Cliven said he believed that migrants should have an opportunity to apply for asylum.
"Are they really refugees or are they really criminals? … We need to settle down and sort them out, "he said. "We can take care of a few thousand people for a few days."
Cliven emphasized that borders and national sovereignty were important to him and that the use of weapons could be justified in some cases: "That is the United States' job to protect our borders. If they have to use teargas, I hope they do not have to and I hope they would not do it. "
The Bundys are Mormons, and the father and both are referenced faith in their commentary about migrants.
"We are sort of a worldwide church. We believe that all of the people on this earth are Heavenly Father's children, "said Cliven, noting that there are Mexican members of the church Mormon. "We do believe we're equal, and we oughta be treated equal and not be divided."
Cliven said he also thought Trump's proposed border wall, a signature part of the 2016 campaign, would be largely pointless.
"They can not build a wall to stop people … I do not think it's going to do any good," he said, adding, "We have an obligation between both countries to deal with each other, and we are neighbors … Those Refugees who are coming from far south, I think we have to deal with them. I do not think they're that big of a problem. "
In a separate interview, Ryan said he spoke with Ammon prior to his Facebook video and expressed support for his brother, adding, "The United States of America has always been known as a pot of fusion. It's always been a place for immigration. Except for the Native Americans, we're all immigrants. "
But, he added, "That does not mean everyone can just rush the border. There's still a process that needs to take place. "
The Bundys' long stints in jail may have also influenced their somewhat unique politics
Cliven, who was infamously caught on camera in 2014 referring to black Americans as "the nergro," and questioning whether they were "better off as slaves", said he had learned a lot about the unfairness of the US prison system.
"There's a pretty good percentage of people that should not be in jail," he said. "They are making money off of prisoners … It's a bureaucracy instead of the justice system."
He said he was perplexed by America's high rates of incarceration: "We are supposed to be the freeest nation in the world … I was in jail with several thousand people. I've seen a lot of good people in there. The smartest people in this nation could be incarcerated in their jails. "
Ammon, who could not be reached for comment, said in his video that he received a lot of "negative response" for his perspective on refugees, including threats of violence: "Several people wanted me dead and others wanted the militia to never come and help my family so that the government would kill us. "