A Deeper Look at Cliven Bundy's Criminal Indictment

Federal officials are speaking their mind almost two years after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and 400 of his armed militia supporters confronted federal agents, causing them to release a herd of impounded cattle and hastily retreat.

The lack of immediate action by the Justice Department after the April 2014 confrontation at Bundy’s ranch near Bunkerville, Nev., provided fuel and encouragement for an array of other incidents, culminating in 41-day standoff at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon that ended on Feb. 11 when the final occupiers surrendered to the FBI.

But now, a page has been turned in what Justice Department prosecutors describe as a “massive armed assault against federal law enforcement officers.”

The new 16-count indictment, returned last week in Nevada, against Cliven Bundy and four of his closest associates is the end result of what federal prosecutors describe as the ‘unprecedented act” of violence directed at federal agents by armed militia and antigovernment groups.

A grand jury’s decision to finally bring criminal charges came with these accompanying reactions:

  • Daniel G. Bogden, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, says the “rule of law” has been reaffirmed.  
  • Laura Bucheit, the FBI chief for Nevada, says the new indictment is a “resounding message” to those who participate in violate acts.
  • Neil Kornze, director of the Bureau of Land Management, says the filing of criminal charges marks a “tremendous step toward ending” 20 years of law breaking by Bundy.

The Nevada trial is months away, maybe even next year, given the volume of evidence gathered by federal investigators. Already, though, it appears the government’s decision to finally bring a litany of criminal charges against Cliven Bundy and the four others is heightening the level of fear and paranoia in antigovernment and militia circles, particularly for those estimated 400 individuals who participated in the April 2014 stand off with federal agents at Bundy’s ranch.

“This action is leading to justifiable speculation and worries that others who assisted in security operations and who were at Bunkerville to show solidarity with the cause of resolving western land disputes may now find themselves rounded up,” David Cordea wrote Thursday on the Oath Keepers website.

“It may be that a massive operation is in the works, but to react imprudently without actual intelligence is a good way to escalate things to the favor of those who wish to discredit the Patriot movement,” Cordea said.

The Bundys “provided situational opportunities” that allowed the FBI to arrest them “with minimal chances of pushback and risk,” Cordea wrote.

“A reason the government didn’t just go in full force to ‘Waco’ either Bunkerville or Malheur is because their analysts knew [that] only would casualties play badly in the press for their political masters,” the Oath Keeper writer opined.

Meanwhile, Victoria Sharp, a young woman who was in a truck driven by Malheur occupier Robert LaVoy Finicum before he was shot and killed on Jan. 26 at a police roadblock near the Oregon refuge, also mentions fears of arrest circulating in the Patriot circles.

On the Bundy Ranch Facebook page, which has 182,295 followers, a recent post said:  “Rumors have been flying, but Victoria is doing just fine and has not been arrested.”

Sharp added: “I have been informed that there are rumors are going around that I have been arrested, and/or that my family's house was surrounded by FBI agents. I want to let everyone know that my family and I are safe (so far), and that I have not been arrested.”

Quietly, over the last 22 months, FBI agents have collected “hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence” from 40 search warrants, combing social media, including Facebook and YouTube, reviewing and analyzing telephone records and monitoring web sites of “domestic extremists” who supported the Bundy cause.

The Justice Department took the wraps off its criminal investigation when Cliven Bundy left his Nevada ranch for Oregon. He was arrested by an FBI SWAT team at the Portland airport, before he could hook up with one of many armed militia groups that have provided him bodyguard service. Bundy had hoped to take over for his imprisoned sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, in jail in Portland for their roles in a conspiracy to take over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. 

Instead, Cliven Bundy ended up in the Multnomah County Jail in Portland on a criminal complaint filed in Nevada. That complaint has now been rolled over to a grand jury 16-count criminal indictment, naming Cliven Bundy, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and their associates, Ryan Payne and Peter Santilli.

The Bundy patriarch is not charged in Oregon, where indictments have been brought so far against 23 individuals, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Pete Santilli and Ryan Payne.

The 51-page Nevada indictment lays out these charges and potential penalties:

  • Conspiracy to Impede and Injure a Federal Law Enforcement Officer – 6 years, $250,000 fine
  • Assault on a Federal Law Enforcement Officer – 20 years, $250,000 fine
  • Threatening a Federal Law Enforcement Officer – 10 years, $250,000 fine
  • Use and Carry of a Firearm in Relation to a Crime of Violence – 5 years minimum and consecutive
  • Obstruction of the Due Administration of Justice - 10 years, $250,000 fine
  • Interference with Interstate Commerce by Extortion - 20 years, $250,000 fine
  • Interstate Travel in Aid of Extortion – 20  years, $250,000 fine

The indictment also includes five counts of criminal forfeiture against each defendant. That means if Bundy and his sons are convicted, they will face forfeiture of property obtained from the proceeds of their crimes, totaling at least $3 million, including Bundy's cattle that roam free year-around at the Bunkerville Allotment and Lake Mead National Recreational Area in Nevada

“This Indictment resulted from a massive armed assault against federal law enforcement officers that occurred in and around Bunkerville, Nevada, on April 12, 2014,” the charging document says.  

It accuses the defendants of planning, organizing and leading the assault on federal officers to extort them into abandoning approximately 400 head of Bundy’s cattle that were being impounded for non-payment of grazing fees on public land.

It describes Cliven Bundy as the “leader, organizer, and chief beneficiary of the conspiracy, possessing [the] ultimate authority” over what occurred at Bunkerville in 2014. It goes into details about the alleged acts his sons, Ammon and Ryan, along with Payne and Santilli, did as part of the conspiracy.

The indictment accuses Santilli, who claims to be a broadcast journalist, of using “threats to encourage and incite listeners to travel to Bundy Ranch for unlawful purposes, telling listeners, among other things, that: ‘If this is not the issue right now where we stand and fight to the absolute death there is no other option; the federal government must get out of the State of Nevada ... if they don't want it to be peaceful it is by their choice. ... I'm calling on all Americans anywhere in the vicinity of Clark County, Nev. If you're in Nevada and can legally carry, get weapons out there, OK?”

In another broadcast, Santilli accused the BLM of being “in violation of every God-given right of every human being.” He made references to the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident and Waco the following year, describing those incidents as “a show of force by government [that] violated sovereign rights.

“If we have 10,000 people [at Bunkerville], [the BLM] will have to get past us,” Santilli said in his broadcast, recruiting armed militia groups to rush to Nevada

Payne is accused in the indictment of putting out similar pleas for assistance to other Bundy sympathiser.

Bundy had been ignoring court orders to remove his trespassing cattle from federal lands since 1998. Under the law, the United States was authorized to seize and remove the cattle after Bundy refused, and the federal removal operation began on April 5, 2014.

A survey revealed that the BLM would have to impound almost 1,000 head of trespass cattle scattered over hundreds of thousands of acres of arid and difficult terrain. Given these circumstances, BLM estimated that it would take a month or more to complete the impoundment. 

On March 14, 2014, the BLM formally notified Bundy that impoundment operations would take place.  The following day, Bundy threatened to interfere, saying publicly he was “ready to do battle” with the BLM and would “do whatever it takes” to protect “his property.”

On March 17, 2014, when the BLM notified Ryan Bundy that the officer would be available to answer any questions about the impoundment operation, Ryan Bundy “became angry and threatened to interfere, stating that he and his family would "do whatever it takes" and he would "have several hundred [supporters] with him to prevent the BLM from removing the trespass cattle,” the indictment says.

“When asked whether his use of ‘whatever it takes’ included physical force or violence, Ryan Bundy replied: ‘I will do whatever it takes; you interpret that the way you want,’” the charging document says.

While the BLM’s cattle roundup was ongoing, Cliven Bundy and his co-conspirators used “deceit and deception to recruit” others, including armed militia groups to Nevada, hoping to force the BLM to stop its cattle impoundment operation. Bundy flooded the Internet “with false and deceitful images and statements to the effect that law enforcement officers were abusing Bundy and stealing his cattle,” the indictment says.

“Deliberately lying, they pleaded for others to travel to Nevada to ‘stop the abuse’ by ‘making a show of force against [the BLM officers]’ in order ‘to get them to back down’ and ‘return the cattle.’”

The conspirators subsequently recruited, organized and led a force of hundreds of people who threatened to use force and violence to prevent the law enforcement officers “from discharging their duties and to coerce their consent to abandon the cattle” being impounded pursuant to a court order, the indictment says.

By April 12, hundreds of people, many armed with assault rifles and other firearms, had traveled to Bunkerville, becoming Bundy’s followers “conspiring with, and aiding and abetting him and his co-conspirators to execute a plan to recover [his] cattle by force.

On April 12, Bundy “organized his Followers and gave them the order to get the cattle, directing a crowd of hundreds to travel more than five miles to the site where the cattle were corralled.

“One group of followers kept law enforcement officers occupied at the main entrance of the site by threatening to enter there, while another group –– ultimately consisting of more than 200 followers led by defendant Ammon Bundy assaulted the site from below, converging on its most vulnerable point: a narrow entrance located in a wash that ran under highway bridges,” the indictment says.

“Outnumbered by more than 4-to-1, unwilling to risk harm to children and other unarmed bystanders who had accompanied the followers, and wishing to avoid the firefight that was sure to follow if they engaged the snipers on the bridge who posed such an obvious threat to their lives, the officers had no choice and were forced to leave and abandon the cattle to Bundy and his co-conspirators,” the indictment says.

The armed Bundy supporters closeness to the federal officers, “their array and formation in the wash, their refusal to disperse upon command, their angry taunts, their numbers carrying or brandishing firearms, the movements of the gunmen in and among the unarmed while brandishing assault rifles and wearing body armor and the superior position of the gunmen on the bridge above, all caused the [federal] officers to fear immediate bodily harm or death,” the indictment says

After federal authorities backed down, Cliven Bundy and the other accused conspirators “organized armed security patrols and checkpoints in and around Bundy’s property to deter and prevent any future law enforcement actions … and to protect his cattle from future removal actions.”

Bundy allowed his cattle to continue to unlawfully graze on federal public lands –– an illegal act that continues through the date of the indictment, it alleges. Oddly, the Bundy Ranch Facebook page has not posted a comment from the imprisoned Cliven Bundy.