Trial be­gins over stand­off in Ne­vada

Case of Cliven Bundy and his sons is about re­spect­ing the rule of law, pros­e­cu­tor says.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By David Mon­tero david.mon­tero@la­times.com

LAS VE­GAS — Ne­vada rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons re­peat­edly vi­o­lated court or­ders to re­move their cat­tle from pub­lic land while in­cit­ing and es­ca­lat­ing an armed stand­off with gov­ern­ment agents near their Bunkerville ranch more than three years ago, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors told a jury Tues­day.

Act­ing U.S. Atty. Steven Myhre laid out the gov­ern­ment’s case against Bundy and two of his sons, Am­mon and Ryan, along with co­hort Ryan Payne, dur­ing an open­ing state­ment that lasted about two hours.

The stand­off, which ended when fed­eral of­fi­cials backed down and re­leased Bundy’s cat­tle, helped the 71year-old rancher at­tain folkhero sta­tus in the eyes of those who say the fed­eral gov­ern­ment squelches per­sonal free­dom.

Myhre told ju­rors that the case wasn’t about free speech, le­git­i­mate protest or gun rights. In­stead, he said, ju­rors needed to weigh whether the na­tion would be bet­ter gov­erned by the rule of law or the end of a gun.

Bundy’s at­tor­ney, Bret Whip­ple, said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was the ag­gres­sor, and that decades-long at­tempts to seize cat­tle and de­mand pay­ments on land Bundy’s fam­ily had used since 1877 caused the stand­off. Whip­ple said the Bundy protest had al­ways been peace­ful.

The stand­off, which drew self-de­scribed mili­tia mem­bers from sev­eral states, grew larger, Whip­ple said, be­cause Amer­i­cans from around the coun­try saw a fam­ily be­ing abused by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties and wanted to come to their aid.

“Why were they there?” Whip­ple asked. “Be­cause in Amer­ica, it’s OK to help.”

The high-pro­file case is ex­pected to push into 2018 as pros­e­cu­tors aim to prove the Bundy fam­ily and mili­tia leader Payne tried to stop the gov­ern­ment from seiz­ing cat­tle that were graz­ing on pub­lic land by threat­en­ing a fed­eral of­fi­cer, car­ry­ing and us­ing a firearm, and en­gag­ing in a con­spir­acy.

Cliven Bundy has be­come a revered fig­ure among those who be­lieve the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has over­stepped its au­thor­ity in re­quir­ing graz­ing fees for cat­tle on land con­trolled by the fed­eral Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, and has raised the larger ques­tion of fed­eral con­trol of land in the West.

Myhre me­thod­i­cally took ju­rors through a time­line lead­ing up to the April 12, 2014, stand­off at an over­pass along In­ter­state 15 about 90 miles north of Las Ve­gas.

He said the con­flict be­gan in 1993, when Cliven Bundy de­cided to stop get­ting per­mits and pay­ing graz­ing fees for his cat­tle that had set­tled on fed­eral land.

Whip­ple ar­gued that Bundy had tried to pay the state of Ne­vada the graz­ing fees be­cause he didn’t rec­og­nize BLM sovereignty over graz­ing land, and said the fam­ily held wa­ter rights in the ar­eas where the cat­tle were graz­ing.

The pros­e­cu­tor said Bundy had plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to com­ply with court or­ders and his vi­o­la­tion of those law­ful de­mands gave au­thor­i­ties the right to re­move the cat­tle.

“Mr. Bundy in­ter­fered,” Myhre said. “The level of in­ter­fer­ence es­ca­lated.”

Myhre sup­plied a nar­ra­tive of the height­ened ten­sions through pho­tos, so­cial me­dia posts and a record­ing of a con­ser­va­tive Cal­i­for­nia talk-ra­dio pro­gram in which the Bundys claimed to be vic­tims of gov­ern­ment tyranny.

Myhre told ju­rors those claims were false and that the BLM was sim­ply ex­e­cut­ing a law­ful court or­der to re­move cat­tle that were graz­ing il­le­gally.

As Myhre spoke, the pho­tos showed mili­tia mem­bers car­ry­ing ri­fles in con­fronta­tions with law en­force­ment — in­clud­ing an image of Am­mon Bundy be­ing tasered by po­lice af­ter run­ning his all­ter­rain ve­hi­cle into a truck driven by work­ers in­volved in the re­moval of cat­tle.

But Whip­ple said Am­mon Bundy rammed his ATV into the truck be­cause it was car­ry­ing pri­vate prop­erty, in­clud­ing wa­ter pipes that help sus­tain the ranch.

Whip­ple showed the jury video of a woman be­ing thrown to the ground — a woman pros­e­cu­tors said was stand­ing in the way of trucks and was moved for her safety. But Whip­ple said the video showed the woman wasn’t in front of the trucks.

Whip­ple didn’t dis­pute that some Bundy sup­port­ers were armed, but he showed images of other sup­port­ers pray­ing with a Bi­ble un­der an over­pass dur­ing the stand­off, say­ing it was a protest of gov­ern­ment over­reach that wasn’t about guns.

He said the peo­ple who gath­ered be­lieved the Bundys were in dan­ger.

“At the end of the day, the gov­ern­ment is us,” Whip­ple said. “The gov­ern­ment said ‘no more.’ ”

Myhre said au­thor­i­ties feared for their lives when about 400 Bundy sup­port­ers faced off against about 30 fed­eral agents. He told ju­rors they would hear tes­ti­mony from of­fi­cers say­ing: “We were out­num­bered. We were out­gunned.”

The case is a high-pro­file show­down for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as it looks to re­bound from sev­eral re­cent losses to the Bundys in court.

Am­mon Bundy, 42, and Ryan Bundy, 44, were ac­quit­ted on sim­i­lar fed­eral felony charges re­lated to their roles in a 41-day stand­off at an Ore­gon wildlife pre­serve in 2016.

Twice this year, Las Ve­gas ju­ries ac­quit­ted or dead­locked on mul­ti­ple charges pinned to sev­eral Bundy co­horts in­volved in the Bunkerville clash.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors man­aged to get Eric J. Parker, 34, of Hai­ley, Idaho, and O. Scott Drexler, 47, of Chal­lis, Idaho, to plead guilty last month to one count of ob­struc­tion of court or­ders.

This trial has al­ready seen a few twists and turns, in­clud­ing the de­lay of open­ing ar­gu­ments last week.

An­other de­lay was threat­ened Tues­day when Myhre asked for a con­tin­u­ance to re­view emails that had been brought to his at­ten­tion this week.

The re­quest was op­posed by the de­fen­dants and de­nied by U.S. Dis­trict Judge Glo­ria Navarro.

“Let’s get it done,” Cliven Bundy told the judge.

The trial will con­tinue Wed­nes­day with open­ing state­ments from the other de­fen­dants.

Rick Bowmer Associated Press

AM­MON BUNDY, cen­ter, in Ore­gon in 2016. He is on trial in Las Ve­gas with his fa­ther and brother.

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