By The TRUTH HOUND
Stop the Presses News & Commentary
[Above photo: Las Vegas Federal District Courthouse]
The jury in the trial of six men associated with the pivotal land-rights case of longtime cattleman Cliven Bundy has officially started its deliberations in Nevada. Thus, the first of three federal trials is drawing to a close—in a matter that likely will go far in determining whether genuine property rights still exist under the federal government’s micromanagement of vast tracts of Western lands.
This case concerns the April 2014 “standoff” that saw Cliven Bundy, his sons (Ammon, Ryan, Mel and Dave are standing trial) and various supporters from across the nation boldly unite to protest what they maintain was unalloyed federal tyranny, spotlighted when federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents showed up near Bunkerville, Nevada, three years ago this month, to impound hundreds of Cliven’s cattle.
The Federal District Court in Las Vegas decided to try all the Nevada defendants over the course of three trials. The defendants in the opening trial, which started Feb. 6, are: Richard Lovelien, Todd Engel, Gregory Burleson, Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler, and Steven Stewart.
They are charged with some 10 counts of conspiracy and firearms charges stemming from the April 2014 standoff. The federal indictment of all the Nevada defendants contains a total of 16 counts, but not all the counts apply to everyone. The defendants could be facing life in prison.
As it turned out in Nevada, the federal agents, amid the resistance expressed by the Bundys and their supporters, failed to impound the cattle, which was attempted over what the government describes as the elder Bundy’s unpaid grazing fees on federal lands.
Concerning the first trial, the jury began deliberating in mid-April after a prosecutor summarized that the six defendants supposedly conspired to “put the fear of God” in federal law enforcement officers when they tried to impound Cliven’s cattle.
“For what? For some cattle? For someone who hasn’t paid grazing fees in 20 years?” erupted Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre. “Or because it made them feel like they’re somebody for a moment in time?”
But as the defense attorneys see it, Cliven’s supporters, many of whom were armed during the standoff, traveled to southern Nevada to exercise both their First and Second Amendment rights, for the sole purpose of protesting BLM land policies, not to engage in any kind of “conspiracy,” armed or otherwise.
In closing arguments, the attorneys for the defense insisted their clients had no knowledge of any conspiracy to wield guns in order to “threaten, intimidate and extort federal agents” into abandoning roughly 400 cows on public land near the Bundy ranch.
It’s important to note that no shots were fired from either side, as the protesters, according to defense testimony, simply stood their ground in the face of heavily armed federal agents and had no intention of doing anything other than protesting the situation.
Cliven, Ryan and Ammon Bundy, along with Ryan Payne and internet journalist Pete Santilli, are the defendants in the second trial—which is expected to be an exceedingly high-profile affair in which the bedrock fundamentals of federal land jurisdiction and control are likely to be rigorously considered, or should be.”
UPDATE: Montanan Roger Roots, a legal adviser to Cliven and Ryan Bundy, attended virtually every day of the first trial. On April 21, Roots, citing the latest court information, confirmed for STOP THE PRESSES (STP) that the second trial will start on June 26, three weeks beyond the initial estimates of June 5 or June 6. The third and final trial is expected in the fall, involving Cliven’s sons Mel and Dave Bundy, along with Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods, and Micah McGuire.
Roots also told STP the morning of April 17, about 30 minutes after jury deliberations resumed, that, as he sees it, the longer it takes for the jury to arrive at a verdict, the better the anticipated outcome will appear, in terms of the first six defendants perhaps being found not guilty or getting a lighter-than-expected sentence. Sentencing could take several months.
The defendants in the second trial, except for Cliven (who was arrested later regarding the events in Nevada) were found not guilty in an equally dramatic federal trial that recently wound up in Portland, Oregon.
The Oregon defendants were seen as having exercised civil disobedience by occupying a vacated federal wildlife facility in eastern Oregon for several weeks, also in protest of federal land policies. The federal government, which seemed cooperative at first, did an about-face and portrayed the occupation as an armed seizure of federal land by right-wing “extremist” types, a narrative which was reinforced by most major media.
Yet the only person shot (fatally, by police) in the whole Oregon affair was hard-working rancher and family man Robert “LaVoy” Finicum during a remote roadside ambush in January of 2016.
And when the Oregon verdict was announced, Cliven, Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and Payne and Santilli, were immediately transferred to Nevada and kept behind bars to stand trial, approaching a status of indefinite detention. That virtually negates their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial.
That stunning Oregon verdict last fall, and the prior Nevada events that prompted BLM agents to back down, fed speculation that eventually the federal government, down but not out, would return to seek “pay-back.” That appears to be the case.
The Nevada standoff has made the Bundy family and their supporters emblematic with the plight of Western ranchers and the decline of their livelihoods and storied lifestyle, in the face of massive federal control of U.S. land, particularly in the Western states. In Nevada, for example, the federal government makes a claim to at least 83% of land there.
As of April 21, the jury was still in deliberations for the first trial and it’s anybody’s guess how long the jury will take to reach verdicts on the first six defendants, a spokesman for Cliven’s legal counsel said.