U.S. prosecutors cast Nevada rancher as leader of conspiracy
LAS VEGAS — Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was cast Tuesday as the leader of a conspiracy to enlist armed militia members to force federal agents, “at the end of a gun,” to abandon efforts to collect his cattle from public rangeland.
As the long-awaited trial opened in Las Vegas, acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre rejected supporters’ characterizations of the 71year-old Bundy, sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne as peaceful protesters and states’ rights freedom fighters.
“This case is not about protesting. This case is about breaking the law,” Myhre told a jury that convened after a one-week delay to hear a case that Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro has told them could take four months.
“This is not a case about cattle grazing,” Myhre said. “It’s about whether you use force and violence to enforce your belief.”
The prosecutor used his opening statement to cast as little more than extortion and theft the April 12, 2014, armed standoff that led the federal Bureau of Land Management to abandon rounding up Bundy cattle and release almost 400 cows.
“They got what they wanted that day,” he told the jury. “They got it at the end of a gun.”
Defense attorneys were due up next before the federal jury in Las Vegas. They’ve said the four men didn’t conspire with anyone and didn’t wield weapons — and that no shots were fired in the standoff near Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Cliven Bundy’s lawyer, Bret Whipple, was expected to say the standoff amounted to a peaceful protest involving likeminded states’ rights supporters. The trial is expected to be contentious.
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