Cliven Bundy’s trial opens

At­tor­ney says rancher tried to set­tle pub­lic land use dis­pute peace­fully

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By David Fer­rara Las Ve­gas Re­view-journal

Cliven Bundy spent decades try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate peace­fully with fed­eral au­thor­i­ties be­fore an armed stand­off broke out in Bunkerville, his lawyer told ju­rors Tues­day dur­ing open­ing state­ments in a con­spir­acy trial for the re­cal­ci­trant Gold Butte rancher and three oth­ers.

In the early 1990s, when Bundy started protest­ing against the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, he was one of about 50 ranch­ers in Clark County, at­tor­ney Bret Whip­ple said.

“But be­cause of BLM in­volve­ment, they’ve all been run off the range,” the lawyer said.

He pointed at Bundy, the re­main­ing “ac­tive rancher,” seated in a red jail jump­suit in a sec­tion of a fed­eral court­room along­side two of his sons and an in­de­pen­dent mili­tia or­ga­nizer, each fac­ing decades be­hind bars.

BUNDY They threat­ened, they in­tim­i­dated and they in­ter­fered.

But Act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Steven Myhre said that in April 2014 Bundy and oth­ers con­spired with a threat of vi­o­lence to drive fed­eral agents off pub­lic land in south­east­ern Ne­vada.

“They threat­ened, they in­tim­i­dated and they in­ter­fered,” Myhre told ju­rors dur­ing a roughly two-hour out­line of the trial. “They threat­ened them to the point that they thought they would lose their lives and those with them would lose their lives.”

Agents were try­ing to carry out a court or­der to round up Bundy’s cat­tle. Pros­e­cu­tors have said the rancher and two of his sons — Am­mon and Ryan — or­ga­nized the stand­off, along with Ryan Payne, the mili­tia man who lured hun­dreds from out of state.

The men face a se­ries of charges, in­clud­ing as­sault on fed­eral of­fi­cers, ex­tor­tion, ob­struc­tion of due ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice and con­spir­acy. The Las Ve­gas trial could stretch into Fe­bru­ary.

‘He worked them up’

Myhre said Cliven Bundy hinted at vi­o­lence even in the late 1990s, when he made ref­er­ences to stand­offs with fed­eral agents that ended in deaths, and con­tin­ued to dis­obey court or­ders.

In April 2014, of­fi­cers who ar­rived in Bunkerville “had every right to pro­tect them­selves and pro­tect those they were guard­ing,” Myhre said. “This case is about the use of vi­o­lence and fear.”

Even af­ter Las Ve­gas po­lice told Bundy that the fed­eral agents had started to dis­perse, the rancher de­manded they turn over their weapons and close down all fed­eral parks, draw­ing cheers from peo­ple gath­ered out­side his home.

“The de­mands were ridicu­lous,” Myhre said. “He worked them up.”

Am­mon Bundy, who the pros­e­cu­tor said took a lead­er­ship role in the stand­off, called the agents “thugs,” as armed mili­tia pro­test­ers strut­ted the land with long guns. Some of the armed men pointed their ri­fles di­rectly at agents less than 200 yards away, the pros­e­cu­tor said.

“That’s a very vo­latile, a very dan­ger­ous, a very vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tion,” Myhre said.

In a show of fur­ther protest, Am­mon Bundy also showed up to trial wear­ing a red jail jump­suit, while Ryan Bundy, who was re­leased Mon­day to a half­way house for the trial, wore a black suit and white shirt. Payne, who like Cliven and Am­mon Bundy is be­ing held in fed­eral cus­tody, wore a blue shirt with a gray Amer­i­can flag tie.

In­mates typ­i­cally are al­lowed to wear civil­ian cloth­ing to trial to avoid prej­u­dic­ing the jury.

‘In Amer­ica it’s OK to help’

Whip­ple told ju­rors that Cliven Bundy tried to pay graz­ing fees to Clark County, which he be­lieved had con­trol over the land. Over the years, penal­ties, fees and in­ter­est rose to more than $1 mil­lion in the eyes of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, the lawyer said.

By 2012, Bundy had tried to work his griev­ances through the court sys­tem, me­dia and even town hall meet­ings, “any­one who would lis­ten,” Whip­ple said. “For 25 years, it’s al­ways been peace­ful. Mr. Bundy has al­ways tried to pro­ceed in a peace­ful man­ner.”

The lawyer di­rected ju­rors to fed­eral agents and an FBI sur­veil­lance cam­era that hov­ered over the Bundy ranch. In April 2014, the armed pro­test­ers caused BLM of­fi­cers to re­treat. But those who had gath­ered in Mesquite to protest, Whip­ple said, en­coun­tered “quasi mil­i­tary, not folks re­turn­ing cat­tle.”

He flashed images of crowds of peo­ple gath­ered in the desert, some armed, oth­ers on horse­back, and more in cir­cles of prayer.

“They were there be­cause in Amer­ica it’s OK to help,” Whip­ple said. “What brought them there is what’s in their heart and a de­sire to help their fel­low man. That is not a crime.”

One of the last images Whip­ple showed on an over­head pro­jec­tor: “The de­fen­dants did NOTH­ING wrong.”

Be­fore ju­rors en­tered the court­room for open­ing state­ments, Micah Mcguire, an Ari­zona man who be­came a mem­ber of Cliven Bundy’s se­cu­rity de­tail dur­ing the stand­off in Bunkerville, pleaded guilty to a con­spir­acy charge.

Con­tact David Fer­rara at dfer­rara@re­viewjour­ or 702380-1039. Fol­low @ran­dom­poker on Twit­ter.

Chase Stevens

Las Ve­gas Re­view-journal @cssteven­sphoto Ryan Bundy, son of Ne­vada rancher Cliven Bundy, leaves the Lloyd Ge­orge U.S. Court­house with his wife, An­gela, on Tues­day. Open­ing state­ments were de­liv­ered in the trial for Cliven Bundy, sons Am­mon and Ryan, and mili­tia or­ga­nizer Ryan Payne.

Chase Stevens

Las Ve­gas Re­view-journal @cssteven­sphoto Lil­lie Spencer, left, and Mar­garet Hous­ton hold signs sup­port­ing the Bundy fam­ily and other Bunkerville stand­off de­fen­dants out­side the Lloyd Ge­orge U.S. Court­house on Tues­day.

Ryan Bundy, son of Ne­vada rancher Cliven Bundy, leaves the Lloyd Ge­orge U.S. Court­house on Tues­day.

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