Nevada rancher Cliven D. Bundy, his two sons and a militia commander were tried on charges that they led an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014. Read the Hatewatch staff's live updates from the trial below.
Federal judge says justice was violated in prosecution of Cliven Bundy, dismisses charges
Jan. 8 — Ryan Lenz
A federal judge in Las Vegas dismissed the indictment against cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and a militia commander from Montana, ending a nearly three-year legal case that began with an armed standoff against federal agents in a dusty wash in the Nevada desert.
In announcing her ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro chastised the federal government for what she characterized as a “reckless disregard to fulfill its constitutional duties.”
“The court finds that a universal sense of justice has been violated,” Navarro said.
The ruling ends the federal government’s prosecution of Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and militia commander Ryan Payne on charges related to the April 12, 2014, standoff with agents of Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Each faced more than a dozen charges for stopping a U.S. District Court ordered impoundment of Bundy’s cattle as payment for fines and fees, including conspiracy, assaulting and threatening federal officers, using firearms during crimes of violence, obstruction of justice and extortion for their actions that day. With Navarro’s ruling, Bundy and his sons cannot be charged again.
The news was met with cheers and applause from supporters as Bundy walked out of U.S. District Courthouse with his wife, Carol, a free man for the first time since he was arrested in February 2016 at the Portland International Airport in Oregon after his sons were arrested there.
He held his wife under his arm and raised his cowboy hat high in the air to supporters’ cheers.
“There’s not a jury in America that will convict us,” Bundy said, echoing comments his sons made last month. “My defense is a 15 second defense. I grazed my cattle only on Clark County, Nevada, land and I have no contract with the federal government. This court has no jurisdiction and authority over this matter. And I have put up with this court in America as a political prisoner for two years.”
Navarro’s ruling was prompted by the discovery of more 3,000 pages of evidence federal prosecutors failed to turn over to defense attorneys, including reports that snipers had surrounded the Bundy family as the federal government prepared to impound the Bundy’s cattle. The federal government had denied that claim, despite the family’s insistence that they were “surrounded” by federal guns.
Navarro agreed with defense attorneys that the failure to disclose evidence represented an egregious and “willful” miscarriage of justice. “The government conduct in this case was, indeed, outrageous,” Navarro said.
While federal prosecutors were not immediately available for comment, the Justice Department said after Navarro’s decision to declare a mistrial last month that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had personally directed an expert in the government’s discovery obligations to examine the case. With Monday’s ruling, that issue does is moot.
The dismissal, which come nearly two months into trial, is a major setback for federal prosecutors who have sought to hold the Bundy family accountable for calling on hundreds of armed militia members and fellow ranchers to stop the enforcement of a federal court order calling for the impoundment of the Bundy family cattle herd as payment for more than $1 million in past due grazing fees and fines.
The BLM abandoned operations that day, fearing bloodshed. In the aftermath of the standoff, the antigovernment “Patriot” movement carried the Bundy’s message about public lands across the West.
This is not the first stumble federal prosecutors have faced in prosecuting members of the Bundy family and their supporters. In Nevada, a mistrial was declared in April in the first trial of six Bunkerville defendants — so-called “follower-gunmen” who prosecutors alleged were part of an antigovernment conspiracy hatched by the Bundys. Two others were convicted, including Gregory Burleson, who said he was “hell bent on killing federal agents” at Bunkerville and was sentenced to 68 years in prison.
For onlookers, federal failures have been met with confusion and outrage.
“My organization has been following the Bundys and their criminal activity for 10 years,” Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity said. “We are absolutely outraged at the incompetence of the prosecutors and the department of justice in handling this case. There is clear evidence that laws were violated by the Bundys and the militia that they roused.”
During trial, defense attorneys presented the events of April 2014 as a protest, not an armed standoff. But militia leaders presented a considerably different picture of that day in the aftermath. Payne, in fact, outlined the militia activities that day in an interview with Hatewatch.
What the family’s exoneration means for the larger movement the family inspired remains to be seen. But Bundy, for his part, promised that if the federal government again tries to impound his cattle –– bringing with it an “army” against “we the people” –– they should expect the family to respond just as it did in 2014.
“We’re not done with this,” Bundy said. “There’s a lot of aiders and abettors here. So are we going to forgive them all, or are we going to go after them. I don’t know. But these aiders and abettors are definitely guilty of taking freedom away from America.”
Judge rules mistrial for Cliven Bundy and three others charged in standoff
Dec. 20 — Ryan Lenz and Bill Morlin
Citing a pattern of prosecutors suppressing evidence, a federal judge in Las Vegas on Wednesday declared a mistrial trial for Cliven Bundy, his two sons and a militia commander on charges they led an armed standoff with federal agents in 2014.
After court was adjourned, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and a Montana militiaman who came to their aide, left the courtroom with their arms linked before addressing reporters who had gathered outside the federal courthouse.
“I do not believe that there is a jury in this country that will convict,” Ammon Bundy told reporters. “The truth is on our side.”
In her oral ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said the government had engaged in a “willful failure to disclose information” related to the use of government snipers and surveillance cameras surrounding the Bundy family home in Bunkerville, Nevada, about 80 miles north of Las Vegas during a 2014 cattle impoundment.
After the mistrial was declared, Acting U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre and two assistant U.S. attorneys who joined him on the prosecution team, declined comment.
"We will let you know if we have one," a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office told Hatewatch.
Navarro also said the federal government had suppressed evidence related to what danger the family posed, if any, based on four different threat assessments of the family that provided contradictory claims regarding the possibility of the family turning violent. In one threat assessment, Navarro said an agent from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had written of the Bundy family, “They’ll probably get in your face, but it won’t lead to a shootout.”
Each defendant faces a host of federal charges related to a 2014 armed standoff in the desert with BLM agents. Bundy, his sons and Payne are charged with conspiracy, assaulting and threatening federal officers, using firearms during crimes of violence, obstruction of justice and extortion for their actions that day.
The mistrial comes not quite two months into a trial defined by numerous days where the public was excluded from the courtroom, a fact that led several media outlets to file a motion asking the judge to intervene and ask to have the proceedings unsealed. This is also not the first stumble federal prosecutors have faced in prosecuting members of the Bundy family and their supporters.
In Nevada, a mistrial was declared in April in the first trial of six Bunkerville defendants — so-called “follower-gunmen” who prosecutors alleged were part of an antigovernment conspiracy hatched by the Bundys. Two others were convicted, including Gregory Burleson, who said he was “hell bent on killing federal agents” at Bunkerville and was sentenced to 68 years in prison.
After a retrial of the first group ended in August, a different Las Vegas jury acquitted defendants Steven Stewart and Ricky Lovelien of all 10 charges they faced. But the panel couldn’t unanimously agree on charges facing Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, resulting in mistrials.
The mistrial is a major setback for federal prosecutors who have sought to hold the Bundy family accountable for calling on hundreds of armed militia members and fellow ranchers to amass on April 12, 2014, to stop the enforcement of a federal court order calling for the impoundment of the Bundy family cattle herd as payment for more than $1 million in past due grazing fees and fines. The BLM abandoned operations that day, fearing bloodshed. In the aftermath of the standoff, the antigovernment “Patriot” movement carried the Bundy’s message about public lands across the West.
Bundy supporters, who have gathered daily outside the federal courthouse during the trial with signs calling Navarro a “tyrant” and proclaiming the family’s innocence, were jubilant with the ruling, even with the presence of a small but vocal protest led by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Tucson, Arizona-based environmental organization whose lawsuits over the desert tortoise forced the BLM's hand in rounding up Bundy's cattle. The protests chanted “Keep your Bundy hands off our public lands.”
Kieran Suckling, executive director for the Center for Biological Diversity, criticized the federal government for failing to take the Bundy family seriously then, and for failing to bring them to justice now.
“The feds have failed to take bold, clear actions to protect these public employees,” Suckling said. “This lack of action has allowed the Bundys to go on a multi-year crime spree.”
Navarro set a new trial date for February 26, 2018, though that could prove of no consequence depending on the result of a hearing scheduled for early January where attorneys will present arguments on whether she could dismiss the case with prejudice, a ruling that would effectively result in a dismissal of charges.
“He will walk out a free man, and he will not walk out until then because he stands on principle, Cliven Bundy’s wife, Carol Bundy, told reporters. “We’ve said all along that we’ll do whatever it takes. [Cliven’s] still doing that. He’s still making that same stand. And so I guess we’re asking you all today, “Has the West been won or has the fight just begun?”
Media outlets ask federal judge to lift secrecy veil in Bundy trial
Dec. 14 — Bill Morlin
On the eve of a possible mistrial, a Las Vegas newspaper has filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge to allow the public access to sealed court documents in the Bundy Ranch criminal conspiracy case.
The trial of Cliven Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon, and Montana militia leader Ryan Payne, has been underway since early November.
When proceedings resume on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro has said she’s inclined to declare a mistrial because federal prosecutors failed to release FBI reports and other evidence to defense attorneys in a manner required by law.
The motion to intervene likely will be held before the trial resumes.
Last week, the judge allowed legal arguments for a mistrial to be conducted in a closed courtroom, with the press and public barred.
There have been several other instances where proceedings have been conducted “under seal” in a closed courtroom, with only prosecutors, defense attorneys and the four defendants present.
The judge has said the sealed proceedings were necessary because attorneys were discussing evidence and FBI reports that are deemed secret under a protective order she issued. The defendants and their attorneys, however, have access to those documents.
Even the names of more than 1,000 prospective witnesses — read aloud in the courtroom during jury selection and part of the sealed court transcript -- are being kept from the press and the public.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest and oldest news media company in Nevada, joined by The Associated Press, filed an emergency motion to intervene on Wednesday.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that when a court contemplates excluding the press or the public from access to hearings or records in a criminal trial, “representatives of the press and general public must be given an opportunity to be heard on the question of their exclusion,” the motion said.
The denial of access to public records impinges on the media’s First Amendment rights to access public records and report on them, and any violation of the First Amendment causes irreparable harm, the motion added.
It cited a 1989 federal appeals court case that held “even a one to two day delay impermissibly burdens the First Amendment.”
“The importance of immediate public access to documents has also been recognized in cases providing the press with access to public records in court files,” the motion said, citing a 2006 appeals court case.
Earlier in the Bundy trial, the judge allowed the Las Vegas newspaper and The AP to intervene to oppose federal prosecutors’ plan for a protective order to keep FBI reports and other documents and evidence in the case from public inspection.
In that instance, the judge said she allowed the media outlets to intervene “to promote transparency and the integrity of the judicial proceedings in this case.”
Federal judge poised to rule on a mistrial in case surrounding Cliven Bundy’s 2014 standoff
Dec. 11 — Ryan Lenz
After years of litigation and only a handful of witnesses, a federal judge in Las Vegas hinted on Monday that she is leaning toward declaring a mistrial for Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and a militia commander from Montana.
Each defendant faces a host of federal charges related to the 2014 armed standoff in the desert with the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne, a militia commander from Montana, are charged with conspiracy, assaulting and threatening federal officers, using firearms during crimes of violence, obstruction of justice and extortion for their actions that day.
Before ordering the trial to proceed under seal Monday morning, Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said she was “inclined” to grant a mistrial in response to a series of defense motions that suggest a pattern of the federal government failing to turn over evidence to defense attorneys in a timely fashion.
The evidence includes threat assessments prepared by various law enforcement agencies that Navarro on Monday said seemed to provide “contradictory” statements regarding what danger the Bundy family and their ideology posed, and proof of the existence of surveillance cameras surrounding the family’s home in Bunkerville, Nevada.
The possibility of a mistrial is only the latest dramatic turn in a legal saga that began on April 12, 2014, when the Bundy family led a force of hundreds of armed militia and ranchers to stop the federal impoundment of the family’s cattle herd as payment for more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines.
This is not the first time a federal prosecution against the Bundy family and their supporters has teetered on the brink of collapse.
Last April, a separate trial in Las Vegas for six other defendants — men the federal government accused of providing the armed resistance in the Bundy’s conspiracy to thwart the court order — ended in a mistrial after jurors were hopelessly deadlocked on 50 of 60 counts.
“I think it should show the federal government that they have a much weaker case than they thought going into this, because we’ve now had two months of testimony from over 50 prosecution witnesses, and they couldn’t get 12 people to agree,” attorney Todd Leventhal said at the time.
Then, last August, two other men — Ricky Lovelien of Montana and Steven Stewart were acquitted of all counts for their actions at the Bundy Ranch in 2014.
Prosecutors have until Friday to respond to defense attorney motions, and the judge is expected to make a ruling on a mistrial by Tuesday, December 19.
The jury has been released until December 20.
Only Cliven Bundy remains in jail as federal trial drags on
Dec. 5 — Bill Morlin and Ryan Lenz
All the defendants in the Bundy Ranch-Bunkerville trial are now out of custody —except the clan’s patriarch, Cliven Bundy, who chooses voluntarily to remain in jail as the holidays approach.
Because he’s still in custody, he will be able to return to U.S. District Court in his red jail jumpsuit — a copy of the U.S. Constitution tucked in his pocket — when the marathon trial resumes next Monday in Las Vegas.
The decision by the 71-year-old defendant to remain in jail and wear prison garb in court may be a strategy to win sympathy from the jury, which began hearing testimony on November 14.
Judge Gloria Navarro set up a Monday-through-Thursday trial schedule, but there have been several delays with the jury out and the courtroom closed to the public while various legal issues are discussed. There is no trial activity this week.
However, on Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy A. Leen held pre-trial hearings and agreed to the release of Melvin Bundy, David Bundy, Jason Woods and Joseph O’Shaughnessy from jail. The release conditions include home-monitoring and no contact with fellow co-defendants.
Those defendants, along with Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods and Micah McGuire are part of a third group of individuals scheduled to stand trial 30 days after the conclusion of the current case. The third group of defendants is composed of “mid-level leaders and organizers whose leadership roles involve their “actions on the ground during the April 12, 2014 assault, and less by their pre-assault activities.”
Their release from jail came after last week’s decision by Judge Navarro to release Cliven and Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy from federal custody under similar monitoring by federal court release officers.
But Cliven Bundy, who had complained of dental issues and harsh treatment in federal custody where he’s been since his February 10, 2016, arrest at Portland International Airport, refused to leave his Nevada jail cell.
His attorney, Bret Whipple, told reporters last week that his client had declined the judge’s offer for release, pledging that he wouldn’t leave custody until all other co-defendants had been released.
So it now remains to be seen if Cliven Bundy will ask the court next week to revisit the issue of his release. Whipple didn’t return a call for comment on Monday.
On November 14, co-defendant Ryan Bundy was the first of the four defendants to be released from federal custody to a halfway house in Las Vegas under court-imposed conditions.
There are more than 1,000 names on a list of prospective witnesses, but not all of are likely to be called. Even still, the trial is expected to last several weeks into the new year.
Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy and Montana militia leader Ryan Payne face various criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, assaulting and threatening federal officers, extortion and using firearms during a crime of violence.
The charges are contained in a 16-count grand jury indictment returned in February 2016 after a lengthy FBI investigation of events surrounding a failed attempt by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to round-up Cliven Bundy’s cattle in March 2014.
A judge ordered the roundup of the “feral cattle herd” spread out over 587,000 acres of public land in Nevada after two decades of court battles. Cliven Bundy contended he didn’t owe federal grazing fees and refused to recognize the federal authority of the BLM, claiming the state of Nevada should control the public lands.
When the roundup began, hundreds of heavily armed militia teams, including Oath Keepers and so-called “III Percenters” came to Bunkerville to support the Bundy family who publicly said they would do “whatever it takes” to block the federal government’s undertaking.
Federal agents abandoned their attempted roundup when they saw militia guns pointed at them and realized they were vastly outnumbered in a desert wash near Bunkerville near the southern tip of Nevada.
Federal prosecutors told the Las Vegas jury that the four defendants were at the heart of a part of a “massive armed assault” conspiracy targeting federal agents who were merely following a court order. Countering that, defense attorney argued that Cliven Bundy and his supporters were merely involved in a spontaneous reaction to what they considered unconstitutional over-reach by agents of the federal government.
Day 31: Cliven Bundy declines court offer for release from jail during trial
Nov. 29 — Ryan Lenz
After months of legal wrangling to get Cliven Bundy released from jail during his trial on charges stemming from a 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in the desert, a federal judge on Wednesday agreed to release the Nevada cattle rancher and two other defendants.
In proceedings under seal, Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro agreed to let Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne out of jail, where they have complained of inhumane treatment since their arrests surrounding the February 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
While word of the release had not yet been made public, the news spread quickly on social media. About two-dozen Bundy supporters gathered outside the Las Vegas courthouse since the trial began celebrating with cries of “Freedom!” and signs calling for jury nullification.
But Bundy, who at 71 remains convicted in his defiance of a federal court order to impound his cattle herd as payment for more than $1.2 million in past grazing fees and fines, surprised both his attorneys and onlookers by declining to be released.
“Cliven Bundy is a man of principle. And he chose not to accept the opportunity to be released this evening because it would violate those principles,” Bundy’s defense attorney Bret Whipple told reporters. “First and foremost is the fact that other people are still in custody while he would be free. He doesn’t want that to happen.”
Whipple, who at times seemed to question the strategy of his client and called him “my boss,” said that Bundy was unwilling to consent to the conditions of his release “when he hasn’t done anything wrong to begin with.”
“This is not just about Cliven Bundy,” Whipple said. “It’s about really the authority of the federal government. And Cliven Bundy is standing up for the people who feel like the federal government may have overstepped its position.”
In her decision, Navarro established a lengthy set of conditions for each defendant, including that they agree to wear a location monitor, refrain from contact with one another outside of the presence of attorneys, restrict their travel to Clark County, Nevada, and refrain from being in possession of firearms. Ryan Payne, who pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge related to the Oregon occupation, will be released only if the judge who presided over the case there agrees. Ryan Bundy, Cliven Bundy’s eldest son, was released from jail into a halfway house before the trial began and remains subject to location monitoring and a nightly curfew.
It was not immediately clear what new evidence or conditions contributed to Navarro’s change of heart in releasing the defendants, though Whipple told reporters that there were “specific issues that took place in a sealed hearing” that resulted in the judge reconsidering her earlier decision.
In a moment of unreserved commentary while announcing the release, Navarro told the court her decision was done with a no small amount of caution.
“One step at a time for me, please,” Navarro told defense attorneys. “I’m still a little bit reluctant. I’m still a little bit careful. I’m trying to be careful.”
Day 30: Cliven Bundy’s attorney alleges BLM bribery, then quickly backs away
Nov. 28 — Ryan Lenz
There’s been no shortage of surprises in the trial of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, his two sons and a Montana militiaman facing charges related to the 2014 armed standoff in Nevada. And Tuesday was no exception.
What began Monday with Bundy’s attorney Bret Whipple suggesting during his examination of a witness that the federal government had attempted to bribe Bundy’s son-in-law ended quickly on Tuesday with a body cam video of the exchange being played for the jury.
There was no offer of a bribe. No hint of a quid pro quo offering of money or favors in exchange for information on the family.
Even with disruptive cell phone interference crackling through the recording, the video showed that BLM Special Agents Robert Shilaikis and Michael Johnson had simply asked Clance Cox, Bundy’s son-in-law and herd manager, for help finding Bundy to discuss the court-ordered impoundment of the Bundy cattle.
In the video, which was played in two parts, the BLM agents asked Cox if he could help them find the Bundy patriarch, and Cox provided two phone numbers and even made the call himself to Bundy, who declined to meet with the BLM and hung up.
During testimony about the exchange, Shilaikis said the purpose of the conversation was simply to get in touch with Bundy and attempt to understand how he would respond when the impoundment of his herd began. “The Bundys were going to stop us,” Shilaikis testified Tuesday. “We just didn’t know how.
In an increasingly tense exchange with government attorneys accusing Whipple casting a “pall” over the trial and trying to open a door on “collateral” information and “march an army” through it, Whipple changed his story and said that the bribe had actually occurred a day later when Johnson and Shilaikis asked Cox what it would it would take for him to help law enforcement.
“I’m not opening the door,” Whipple told Navarro. “I’m trying to get to the heart, the crucible of the case.” He added, insisting without evidence, “I don’t think I opened the door. I think I found something that was happening and shouldn’t have.”
Whipple’s “crucible of the case” has, since the trial began, turned more and more into a host of conspiracy theories that have consumed both Bundys most extreme antigovernment supporters. It is a trend that seems almost certain to continue as the trial stretches on.
Day 29: A month before 2014 standoff, Bundy son warned federal government his family would do ‘whatever it takes’
Nov. 27 — Ryan Lenz
On Monday, jurors in the trial of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and three other defendants facing federal charges in a 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) heard a recorded phone call between Bundy’s eldest son and a federal agent trying to understand if efforts to enforce a federal court order would result in violence.
The phone call, recorded in March 2014 just weeks before tensions between the Bundy family and the federal government escalated and teetered on violence, further exposed how deeply the Bundy family had adopted ideas that have long lingered on the antigovernment Patriot right, namely ideas of county supremacy over federal authority.
Federal prosecutors argue the phone call shows just how convinced the family was to thwart a federally ordered “gather” of Bundy’s herd, and how willing they were to threaten violence to stop the order.
“We are coming. Let us be clear on that,” Michael Johnson, an official with the BLM, told Ryan Bundy on the telephone call.
Bundy responded by assuring Johnson that the family did not recognize the authority of two U.S. district court orders calling for the impoundment of the family’s herd as payment for roughly $1.2 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines, and that if confronted, they were prepared to do “whatever it takes” to keep their cows.
“You will not take one single cow that belongs to us,” Bundy said. “I’m putting you on notice. … I will come after you personally and legally. … I will do whatever it takes and I’ll have several hundred to help.”
Several hundred, in fact, did come on April 12, 2014, as antigovernment “Patriot” groups nationwide sounded an alarm of “tyrannical overreach” in the weeks leading up to the standoff.
Cliven Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne, a militia commander from Montana, are charged with conspiracy, assaulting and threatening federal officers, using firearms during crimes of violence, obstruction of justice and extortion for their actions that day.
The trial comes after federal prosecutors walked away with mixed success in earlier cases involving members of the Bundy family and other defendants, including those with ties to various militia and III Percent groups. Juries returned not guilty verdicts or mistrials in earlier trials in Nevada and in Oregon, where Ryan and Ammon Bundy faced charges stemming from a 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Some defendants have pleaded guilty in exchange for plea agreements.
The decision to introduce the 46-minute call into evidence came after defense attorneys suggested that providing only snippets of the phone call to jurors, as prosecutors had done earlier in the day, offered a skewed understanding of the family’s thinking in the weeks leading up to the April 12 standoff.
As much as the trial has focused on crimes alleged to have been committed during the standoff in a dusty wash north of Las Vegas, Bundy’s defense attorneys have worked to shift the focus of the trial to the federal management of public lands –– the Bundy’s primary contention. For decades, in fact, the Bundy family has argued that the federal government has no authority to manage grazing and water rights on public lands. That authority, they say, belongs to the state of Nevada.
“We’ve been here a lot longer than the BLM has even been in existence,” Ryan Bundy told Johnson in the recording, before adding that management of public lands should be handled on a “county level.” “We the people did not give the federal government authority to own these lands.”
For antigovernment extremists, the county sheriff is the highest-ranking and only legitimate law enforcement officer. The concept came out of the anti-Semitic and racist Posse Comitatus movement of the 1970s and is often referred to as the “county supremacy movement.”
The idea was again critical to Ryan Bundy’s argument that the BLM had no authority to management these lands, and therefore the Bundy family had committed no crime by letting their cattle graze on public lands without paying, he said.
“The only person with the authority to enforce the law is the county sheriff,” Ryan Bundy said. “The government has no power, no authority of its own. … They only have the power we give them.” He added, “That’s the miracle of America.”
Day 17: Ryan Bundy, acting as his own attorney, claims federal government broke the law
Nov. 15 — Bill Morlin and Ryan Lenz
Ryan Bundy, on trial in Las Vegas for a string of alleged federal crimes, told a jury Wednesday that it was the federal government and its agents, not him or his family that broke the law.
Bundy, acting as his own attorney and presenting his own opening statement, spent 70 minutes outlining his family’s lengthy ties to a 160-acre privately owned ranch and adjoining public land in southern Nevada that was the scene of a 2014 standoff between federal agents with a court order attempting to round up Bundy Ranch cattle.
Bundy said he and his co-defendant father, Cliven Bundy, only recognize the “sovereignty of the state of Nevada” and Clark County, not the federal government and its Bureau of Land Management which manages millions of acres of public land where Bundy cattle roam and eat vegetation.
Cliven Bundy has not paid grazing fees to the BLM since 1993, prompting the federal government to seek a court order allowing the agency to round up the cattle. The government contends the Bundy family and others, including antigovernment militia teams who came to their aid from throughout the United States, carried out a “massive armed assault” on federal agents and contract employees who were forced to abandon the effort at barrel-point.
Ryan Bundy claimed it was federal agents who exceeded their authority, triggering the standoff by “using snipers to point their guns at me” and others officers who threw his “Aunt Margaret” to the ground at a roadblock and used a Taser on his brother Ammon Bundy when he blocked a dump truck.
Videos of those encounters were widely spread on social media by assorted antigovernment militia and Patriot groups and others.
“When the American people saw that kind of behavior, they were outraged,” Ryan Bundy told the jury, buttressing his contention that neither he, his father, brother Ammon or co-defendant Ryan Payne engaged in any kind of conspiracy as alleged in a federal indictment.
Militia groups and others traveled to the Bundy Ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada, “because they felt the spirit of the Lord, the spirit of ‘We the People,’” Bundy told the jury.
“These people came and they saved my life,” Bundy said, adding a reference to Payne, an Iraq War veteran living in Montana who headed a militia group called Operation Mutual Aid.
“Ryan Payne, he saved my life,” Ryan Bundy said. “The government will paint him to be a bad man, but the evidence will show otherwise.”
Bundy began his remarks by using a projector to display a family photo of him, his wife, Angela, and the couple’s six blond daughters and two sons. “This is who I really am. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they’re safe and that they’re free.”
While not specifically mentioning his Mormon faith, he told the jurors he wanted them to understand “my heritage and how that relates to this case.”
“My family has been on this land for 141 years,” he said, and has filed claims with the “sovereign state” of Nevada for water rights on public lands where their cattle graze. “The issue about rights is what brought us here today.”
“We don’t claim we own the land,” he said of the public property managed by the BLM and officially owned by all United States citizens. “That land belongs to the state of Nevada, but we own the grazing rights and the water rights. We don’t rent for something we own.”
If grazing fees are necessary, “then we’re going to pay it to the proper owner — the people of Clark County.”
When his family was approached by federal agents and told about the pending cattle impoundment in early 2014, Ryan Bundy said, “we turned to our local law enforcement to do the job they were elected to do.” That was a clear suggestion that the Bundy clan expected the local sheriff to intervene and prevent federal agencies and their commissioned law enforcement officers from carrying out a court order.
The same scenario unfolded in 2016 in Oregon when Ammon Bundy and other Patriot and militia individuals took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after the local sheriff there refused to intervene and stop two local ranchers from reporting to serve federal prison terms.
Without citing a source for the information, Ryan Bundy said the federal government spent $6 million in the failed attempt to impound the cattle. “Who spends $6 million to collect $100,000 in grazing fees?” Bundy asked the jury.
He also contended, again without specifics, that the three trials for 19 defendants indicted in March 2016 will cost $100 million. “What is this about? What is this about?” he asked the jury.
“In America, sovereignty lies with the people. In America, ‘We the People’ are the sovereigns … and have the final say,” not the federal government, Bundy said. “We are not servants or slaves to the government.”
“When we have to get licenses for everything we do, that’s not freedom, folks,” he continued. He said his actions at Bunkerville and at a Utah cattle auction house were merely “to protest, to boycott, which is legal.”
“It is a method of redress of grievances … the right of free speech,” Ryan Bundy said.
Expounding on the right of free speech, he said the BLM during its cattle roundup established a “1st Amendment Zone” where he and others protesters were told they could picket and verbalize their anger. “A ‘pig pen,’ that’s what we called it,” he told the jury. “What an atrocity. Since when did they [the federal government] have the authority to do that,” to restrict free speech to a fenced-in area.
Ryan Bundy said he encountered federal agents on State Route 170 near Bunkerville when he stopped his van “to take pictures of them stealing our cattle. We weren’t there to impede.” agents.
At other times during the impoundment, that lasted from mid-March to April 9, Ryan Bundy said he was in constant phone or physical contact with the local sheriff’s department. “Is that what a criminal usually does? Call the governor? Call the sheriff?”
“We were there protecting our rights, our property,” he continued. Continuing his emphasis on not recognizing the authority of BLM law enforcement agents, Bundy said, “They call them federal agents. They’re just BLM employees.”
“Our law enforcement gets their authority from ‘We the People” and we delegate that to our local sheriff through elections.”
Defense attorneys for Ammon Bundy said they would reserve their opening statements for presentation to the jury at the end of the prosecution’s case.
“A man only has rights he is willing to claim, and if you don’t [claim them] when challenged, you will lose those rights,” Bundy said, taking a line often heard in Patriot, antigovernment circles. A badge for that movement is a pocket copy of the Constitution, carried in Cliven Bundy’s jailhouse jumpsuit pocket and in the pockets of many of the Bundy family supporters in the packed-to-capacity courtroom of Judge Gloria Navarro.
Not once during his opening remarks did the lead government prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, object, even though portions of Ryan Bundy’s opening statement sounded more like closing arguments reserved for the end of testimony.
Day 16: In opening statements, U.S. attorney seeks to dispel notion that Bundys were "protesting"
Nov. 14 — Bill Morlin and Ryan Lenz
The armed standoff between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons and their militia supporters was a conspiracy to use violence, threats and intimidation to interfere with a court-ordered roundup of cattle illegally grazing on public lands, a federal prosecutor told a Las Vegas jury on Tuesday.
In a detailed opening argument, Steven Myhre, U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada, sought to dispel the notion that the Bundy family and their supporters were merely protesting when, backed by heavily armed militia members, they took part in a tense confrontation with BLM agents in a dusty wash along Interstate 15 in April 2014.
“This case is not about protesting,” Myhre said in his opening statement to the jury more than three years after the event. “This case is about instilling fear in people through the use of violence. … It’s about the means they used –– the use of guns, the use of violence.”
The defendants include the elder Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne, a militia leader from Montana who raced to the Bundy Ranch northwest of Las Vegas just days before the standoff to coordinate militia members arriving in droves. Each faces a host of charges, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, assaulting and threatening federal officers, extortion and using firearms during a crime of violence.
The roundup of Bundy’s cattle — what prosecutors called a “feral herd” spread out over 587,000 acres of public land in Nevada — began after two decades of legal wrangling between the Bundy family and the Bureau of Land Management that went to civil court in 1998, 1999 and again in 2013. That year, a federal judge ordered the impounding of Bundy’s cattle.
Myhre detailed how BLM agents planned the roundup — hiring civilian contractors and a Utah cattle auction — before the plan was activated in late March 2014. Almost immediately, the antigovernment “Patriot” movement responded. Hundreds of armed militiamen, including Oath Keepers and so-called “III Percenters” came to Bundy’s aid. With militia guns pointed at them and vastly outnumbered, federal agents feared for their lives and retreated. The Bundy family then freed the cattle that had been impounded.
Cliven Bundy’s defense attorney, Bret Whipple, said in his opening arguments that the case is about much more than what his client owed the federal government. “This is not about money. It’s not about money at all,” he said. “What happened in April 2014 was a dispute over natural resources in Clark County [Nevada]. … It’s a dispute that goes way back.”
Whipple also dismissed the notion that the Bundy family had escalated the disagreement with the federal government. He said the Bundy family was simply enforcing its Constitutional rights by protesting against the BLM’s “theft” of their cattle — a message spread wide on social media to attract hundreds to the Bundy ranch during the roundup.
“It’s not a crime to be concerned or emotional,” Whipple told jurors. “Democracy gets a little messy sometimes.”
But prosecutors contended the issue involving the Bundys was not so clear-cut.
Earlier Tuesday, Myhre told the jury that Cliven Bundy’s son, Ryan Bundy, had begun interfering with federal agents involved in the roundup, telling them repeatedly that the Bundy family and their militia supporters were “willing to do whatever it takes” to stop BLM operations. At one point, a Utah sheriff was summoned to the cattle auction house where the Bundy’s cattle were being sold after Ryan Bundy again made threats. The sheriff wrote a letter to the Utah governor, asking him to intervene to prevent bloodshed and violence.
Throughout the ordeal, Myhre said, the Bundy family and their supporters, including internet radio host Pete Santilli, broadcast “false messages” that the family was surrounded by federal agents, forced to “shelter in place” in their homes as agents carried out an operation focused on “stealing cattle.” Santilli’s social media postings carrying the message of a coming “Range War” attracted a substantial following, particularly in militia and antigovernment circles.
The armed conflict that resulted was “all the result of these defendants interfering with the BLM,” the prosecutor said. “If they had followed the court order [to remove the cattle from public land], the BLM would have had no issue” with the Bundys.
On Tuesday, in a move that surprised many, the judge agreed to release Ryan Bundy from federal custody to a halfway house in Las Vegas, under a list of pre-trial release conditions.
He arrived at the U.S. Courthouse in a white limousine, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, several minutes before the start of proceedings on Tuesday.
The trial will continue Wednesday with opening arguments scheduled to come from attorneys for Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne. Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself during the trial, is also expected to make an opening argument.
Day 16: Jury begins hearing arguments
Nov. 14 — Bill Morlin and Ryan Lenz
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons and their militia supporters were not involved in a demonstration or protest but used violence, threats and intimidation when they interfered with a 2014 roundup of cattle illegally grazing on public lands, a federal prosecutor told a Las Vegas jury Tuesday.
Steven Myhre, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada, made his opening statement to the jury after U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro denied defense motions for a mistrial or another continuance on the trial in Las Vegas.
Her ruling allowed the jury, selected earlier this month, to finally begin hearing the federal criminal case brought against Cliven Bundy, his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne, a militia leader from Montana who raced to the Bundy Ranch northwest of Las Vegas during the 2014 cattle roundup.
The defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, assaulting and threatening federal officers, extortion, using firearms during a crime of violence and other counts contained in a 16-count federal indictment returned by a grand jury on March 2, 2016.
The federal prosecutor began by explaining to the jury that the roundup of Bundy’s cattle — a “feral herd” spread over 587,000 acres of public land in Nevada — began only after the Bureau of Land Management went to civil court in 1998, 1999 and again in 2013 seeking a judge’s order to impound the cattle. In 1993, Myhre told the jury, Bundy declared he was “firing the BLM” and stopped applying for required federal grazing permits and paying accompanying per-head grazing fees.
The defense is expected to argue that the Bundy’s were merely following their God-given Constitutional rights and were merely demonstrating or protesting against the BLM’s “theft of our cattle” — a widely spread social media message that attracted hundreds of antigovernment activists and militia members to the Bundy ranch during the roundup.
“This case is not about protesting,” Myhre said. “It is about use of guns and the use of violence.”
With militia guns pointed at them and vastly outnumbered, the federal agents ultimately retreated, fearing for their lives and freeing the cattle that had been impounded.
Myhre detailed how BLM agents planned the roundup, hiring civilian contractors and a Utah cattle auction, before the plan was activated in late March 2014.
Early on, the prosecutor told the jury, Ryan Bundy began interfering with federal agents involved in the roundup, telling them repeatedly that the Bundy family and their militia supporters were ready to “do whatever it takes to stop” the roundup.
At one point, a Utah sheriff was summoned to the cattle auction house where Ryan Bundy had again made those threats. The sheriff wrote a letter to the Utah governor, asking him to intervene to prevent bloodshed and violence.
Meanwhile, the Bundys and their supporters, including Internet radio supporter and co-defendant Pete Santilli, to broadcast “false messages” that the Bundy’s were surrounded by federal agents, forced to “shelter in place” in their homes by federal agents who were accused of “stealing cattle,” Myhre told the jury.
Santilli’s social postings — the “Bundy Range War” — attracted a substantial following, particularly in militia and antigovernment circles. The prosecutor said Santilli characterized the Bundy standoff as having the “potential for another Wace, another Ruby Ridge,” references to 1993 and 1992 deadly encounters between federal agents and civilians.
The armed conflict that resulted was “all the result of these defendants interfering with the BLM,” the prosecutor said. “If they had followed the court order [to remove the cattle from public land], the BLM would have had no issue” with the Bundys.
On Tuesday, in a move that surprised many, the judge agreed to release Ryan Bundy from federal custody to a halfway house in Las Vegas, under a list of pre-trial release conditions.
He arrived at the U.S. Courthouse in a white limousine, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, several minutes before the start of proceedings on Tuesday.
Day 9: Evidence issues delay start of Bundy trial
Nov. 7 — Bill Morlin and Ryan Lenz
Opening arguments in the Bundy trial, scheduled to begin today in Las Vegas, were postponed at the last minute after a federal judge said she wanted evidentiary issues resolved beforehand.
Defense attorneys for Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher and antigovernment icon, his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne, say the will ask U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro to dismiss criminal charges because they just learned a surveillance camera was used by government agents during the 2014 standoff at Bunkerville.
The issue of the camera surfaced last week during an evidentiary hearing after a 12-member jury and four alternates was empaneled. The camera, mounted on a tripod, equipped with a laser and powered by a generator, apparently was put up on public land by the FBI to help monitor Bundy supporters arriving at the nearby Bundy ranch.
“A specter is haunting this case — the specter of repeated and on-going discovery misconduct by the United States, Cliven Bundy’s attorney Bret Whipple wrote in a motion to dismiss filed late Monday. “All of the power of the United States, exercised through its law enforcement agencies, and through the United States Attorney’s Office, has generated a fog that obfuscates the truth surrounding the events of March, 2014, and April 2014.”
The defense team told the court Tuesday that they want images recorded by the camera or any notes taken during its four days of operation, but U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre said those kind of records don’t exist.
The government already has turned over to the defense attorneys digital video, including aerial surveillance video, taken during the siege. Under discovery rules in criminal cases, federal prosecutors must turn over all evidence to the defense, including any material that could be exculpatory for the defendants.
“There’s no information to turn over because nothing was recorded” by the camera, the lead federal prosecutor told the judge. If images existed, Myhre said, “we’d be using [them] ourselves.”
But the judge told a packed courtroom that she wasn’t immediately convinced and directed the government prosecutors to bring in someone, likely an FBI agent or supervisor, to provide the court with further testimony about the camera or cameras. That hearing was set for Wednesday. The judge said she will rule on the motion to dismiss the case next Monday, with opening arguments and the jury’s return set for Tuesday, November 14.
The judge also said she would take under advisement a joint request to release the four defendants who have been in custody since early last year.
The judge said she wants to know how many cameras were in use and whether any data was collected or if it was only used for live viewing in a command trailer where federal agents were supervising a round-up of Cliven Bundy’s cattle.
As the roundup began, squads of armed militia gunmen and Bundy supporters from throughout the United States arrived at Bunkerville. Some of them pointed firearms — described by prosecutors as a “massive armed assault” of federal agents who were attempting a court-ordered round-up Cliven Bundy’s cattle on public lands for non-payment of federal grazing fees.
Ryan Bundy, dressed in a three-piece suit and acting as his own attorney, told the court that he saw at least two cameras during the siege. His father and brother both chose to show up for trial wearing jail-issued red jumpsuits. Cliven Bundy had a paperback copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket.
Day 1: Bunkerville showdown heads to Federal Court
Oct. 30 — Bill Morlin
Three-and-a-half years after he and his supporters stood down federal agents, 71-year-old Nevada rancher Cliven D. Bundy today heads for another showdown with the U.S. Government — this one in a Las Vegas courtroom.
In the new faceoff, prosecutors will attempt to convince a jury beyond a “reasonable doubt” that Bundy, along with his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne and others, were part of a “massive armed assault” conspiracy targeting federal agents in a landmark case that’s become known as Bunkerville.
The trial was scheduled to begin October 3 in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, but was delayed four weeks because two days earlier a gunman, firing from a high-rise hotel in the city, shot and killed 58 concertgoers and injured 546 others.
U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, who ordered the postponement over the objection of Cliven Bundy, said it would be difficult to find jurors who could “concentrate and focus” on the Bunkerville conspiracy case in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
That issue likely will be raised again when prospective jurors for the Bundy trial are questioned by the trial judge and defense attorneys. Jury selection could take a few days. The trial — scheduled Mondays through Thursdays — is expected to last six to eight weeks.
Courtroom theatrics by some or all of the four defendants seem guaranteed.
Last week, for example, Ryan Bundy filed court documents sounding very much like he’s embraced the ideologies of an antigovernment sovereign citizen.
In a rambling, sovereign-style court filing, he called himself “ryan-c; of family Bundy — A Living Soul, A man of GOD, as Sui Juris by Special Appearance, Non-representative/Non-agent” and referring to the “Organic united States Constitution.”
He attached “affidavits” from Bundy family supporters, arguing that Judge Navarro should be removed from the case because of her “biased” rulings.
The judge also made references in court last week that Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy had refused to comply with “security protocols” while being transported from their jail cells by deputy U.S. marshals. The judge ordered the three to be restrained with “full restraints, including waist restraints,” even in the courtroom.
At one point during last week’s pretrial hearings, Ammon Bundy was removed from the courtroom because he refused to stop talking when the judge was speaking. Those extraordinary security steps are likely to continue during trial if the defendants continue with defiant acts or outbursts.
In the run-up to the trial, two other defendants, Eric Parker and O. Scott Drexler, both members of the Idaho III Percent movement, entered guilty pleas to misdemeanors after a mistrial this summer. It’s not clear if they will be called as witnesses.
Cliven Bundy, his sons and Payne are charged with conspiracy, assaulting and threatening federal officers, using firearms during crimes of violence, obstruction of justice and extortion.
The trial comes after federal prosecutors walked away with mixed success in earlier cases involving members of the Bundy family and their antigovernment associates, including those with ties to various militia and III Percent groups. Juries returned not guilty verdicts or mistrials in earlier trials in Nevada and Oregon. Some defendants have pleaded guilty in plea deals.
Now, in Las Vegas, federal prosecutors — faced with a mountain of evidence, a long line of prosecution witnesses and a complicated conspiracy storyline involving social media postings and phone records — appear ready to streamline the government’s Bunkerville case to its simplest possible terms.
A trial attorney from the Justice Department headquarters has joined the prosecution team headed by Steven W. Myhre, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, and a team of assistant U.S. attorneys from his office.
The government will call three FBI agents to present overviews of the case to the jury, court filings reveal.
One agent will be used to introduce two “summary exhibits” showing jurors a visual, photographic timeline of events between April 9 and 12, 2014.
Another agent will be put on the stand to introduce an exhibit depicting “the number of guns” wielded by Bundy supporters and their locations in a Bunkerville “wash” or gully during the April 12, 2014, standoff with federal agents, court filings say.
A third agent will detail for the jury “multiple summary telephone exhibits” listing calls between various accused co-conspirators during the course of the conspiracy. That agent, the fillings say, also will introduce “integrated summaries” showing a “timeline of key communications between defendants and co-conspirators across different media, including Facebook and phone calls.”
In summarizing the defense case, the defendants’ attorneys told the court they will argue simply that there was no conspiracy, that Cliven Bundy is an innocent man who wasn’t involved in any criminal conduct at Bunkerville.
From their view, the defense attorneys paint Bunkerville as sort of a spontaneous, “civil and political protest” where laws weren’t broken.
In response to the government’s attempts “to seize hundreds of cattle owned by Cliven Bundy,” the defense attorneys said the “civil and political protests began to take place near the Bundy Ranch site,” attracting national attention.
Individuals from Nevada and numerous other states in the Union, many of them armed, voluntarily traveled to the Bundy Ranch in Nevada “to protest what they believed to be unjust and/or unlawful federal activities,” the defense attorneys said in court filings.
While the government accuses Cliven Bundy of “leading a conspiracy to assault federal officers, [he] contends that he engaged in no criminal conspiracy,” the defense team will argue.
“Individual protestors each came for their own reasons and acted in accord with their own consciences, and that the BLM ultimately released the cattle due to a campaign of media and political pressure, rather than as a result of an unlawful conduct done by Bundy,” the defense summary statement says.
Those who track extremists and others say Bunkerville 2014 came dangerously close to a deadly shoot-out between Cliven Bundy, his militia and Patriot supporters in their armed showdown with heavily outnumbered federal agents.
At barrel-point in April 2014, the federal agents were forced to abandon approximately 400 head of cattle that they’d rounded up with a court order after Cliven Bundy refused to pay $1.2 million in federal grazing fees for more than two decades.
The indictment accuses the defendants of threatening, and using “force and violence” in an organized conspiracy to “assault, threaten, impede, and interfere with the officers while they executed their duties” forcing them into an unprecedented retreat.
The case has become a reference point in various militia, far-right constitutionalist, Patriot and antigovernment circles. These people, including Cliven Bundy, believe vast public land holdings in the West and elsewhere should be returned to state control, that federal agencies and their agents have no authority.
Bundy claims he doesn’t owe the federal government a dime because his Mormon ancestors grazed their cattle on the Nevada desert long before the land “was stolen” by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
A federal court ruled in 1998 that Bundy did, indeed, owe the federal government payment for grazing fees, but he ignored that judge’s ruling and others that followed, ultimately setting the stage for the cattle roundup and the April 12, 2014, showdown at the Bunkerville “wash.”
The event became a propaganda coup of sorts for various antigovernment, Patriot and militia groups who boasted that armed, private citizens had faced down the “out-of-control” federal government and won. Bunkerville, it seemed, was providing fuel and encouragement for an array of other incidents involving domestic extremists.
In the months that followed, some Bunkerville participants and supporters became involved in other armed standoffs with the federal government in Oregon and Montana.
In April 2015, some of the Bunkerville militia participants traveled to the Sugar Pine mine in Oregon on federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The “show of force” there by armed antigovernment activists prevented federal officers from entering the property and taking any regulatory efforts with respect to the mine,” court documents say.
Then, in August 2015, some of the same Bunkerville participants showed up in another armed show of force at the White Hope mining site in Montana on federal land administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
In January 2016, still other Bunkerville alumni, including Cliven Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy and Ryan Payne, were involved in the armed, illegal takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve in eastern Oregon.
Defense attorneys for Cliven Bundy attempted to block prosecutors from telling the jury about the Sugar Pine and White Hope incidents on the grounds that such information would be prejudicial, but trial judge rejected that argument.
Navarro ruled that Drexler and Parker’s “participation in the Idaho III% [movement] and their involvement in the [Sugar Pine and White Hope] operations are inextricably inter-twined with the charged conspiracy” in the Bunkerville case.
For almost two years after the 2014 standoff in Nevada, many wondered if the participants would ever be charged with crimes, including taking up armed tactical positions and their pointing firearms at federal agents less than 200 yards away.
But behind the scenes, the FBI had launched an intensive investigation — pouring over gigabits of social media digital data, photos and videos in an attempt to identify each Bunkerville participant and their individual roles.
That led to a criminal complaint, initially just naming the FBI’s primary target — Cliven Bundy. He was arrested by FBI agents on February 11, 2016, after deplaning in Portland, Oregon, en route to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where seven of the Bunkerville participants and other armed militants staged another massive showdown with the federal government.
Led by his son, Ammon Bundy, the armed group staged an illegal occupation of the preserve near Burns, Oregon, to protest prison sentences given two ranchers and to further amplify the far-right belief that the federal government has no legitimate right to control public lands. Before the Oregon standoff was over, antigovernment occupier Robert LaVoy Finicum was fatally shot at a police roadblock.
Meanwhile in Nevada, the FBI and federal prosecutors continued presenting evidence of Bunkerville crimes to a grand jury which returned a 16-count indictment on February 17, 2016. It named five defendants: Cliven Bundy; Ryan C. Bundy; Ammon E. Bundy; Ryan W. Payne and Peter T. Santilli Jr.
The Bunkerville investigation didn’t end there. Using the grand jury’s subpoena power and interviews with Bunkerville participants, an expanded superseding indictment was returned on March 2, 2016, in Las Vegas.
The newer indictment charged 19 participants with conspiracy and other crimes related to Bunkerville. Those charged were Cliven Bundy; Ryan C. Bundy; Ammon E. Bundy; Ryan W. Payne; Peter T. Santilli Jr.; Melvin D. Bundy; David H. Bundy; Brian D. Cavalier; Blaine Cooper; Gerald A. Delemus; Eric J. Parker; O. Scott Drexler; Richard R. Lovelien; Steven A. Stewart; Todd C. Engel; Gregory P. Burleson; Joseph D. O'Shaughnessy; Micah L. McGuire and Jason D. Woods.
The defendants subsequently were separated into three groups for trial purposes.
In October 2016, an Oregon jury acquitted Ryan and Ammon Bundy and five others charged with the armed, 41-day takeover of the Malheur refuge. Last March, four others involved were convicted of misdemeanors.
In Nevada, a mistrial was declared in April in the first trial of six Bunkerville defendants — so-called “follower-gunmen” who prosecutors alleged were part of an antigovernment conspiracy hatched by the Bundys. Burleson and Engel were both convicted.
In July, Burleson, who said he was “hell bent on killing federal agents” at Bunkerville and was sentenced to 68 years in prison. Engel’s sentencing was postponed at his request until December.
After a retrial of the first group ended in August, a Las Vegas jury acquitted defendants Steven Stewart and Ricky Lovelien of all 10 charges they faced. But the panel couldn’t unanimously agree on charges facing Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, resulting in mistrials. They were then joined in as defendants in the Cliven Bundy trial before striking plea agreements with federal prosecutors and pleading guilty to obstruction of a court order, a misdemeanor, earlier this month.
The six other remaining Bunkerville “tier 2” defendants, Cliven Bundy’s other sons, David H. Bundy and Melvin D. Bundy, along with Joseph D. O’Shaughnessy, Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods and Micah McGuire are scheduled to go to trial 30 days after the conclusion of the Cliven Bundy prosecution.