More than three-and-a-half years since the so-called Battle of Bunkerville, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, his two sons, and a fourth defendant are facing a jury of their peers in a Las Vegas courtroom.
As opening statements kicked off this week, prosecutors said the Bundy camp defied the rule of law by threat of violence and intimidation, while defense attorneys called the nearly weeklong standoff in April 2014 a legal protest against federal government overreach.
“The only thing (Bundy) wanted to do was raise cattle, just like his grandfather did, and his dad did,” defense attorney Bret Whipple said in his opening presentation, according to Reuters.
Cliven Bundy’s cattle, and the lands they roamed, represent the root cause of the Bunkerville standoff, which was the culmination of a decades-long dispute between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management. Before 1993, Bundy paid the federal government land grazing fees. But then Bundy took issue with the government’s tightened ranch restrictions meant to protect the endangered desert tortoise.
Bundy wrote letters to BLM, questioning its jurisdiction and insisting his family laid claim to the land since the 1800s. He refused to pay grazing fees for the next two decades, and when BLM came to round up cattle in 2014 in lieu of $1 million in backed grazing fees, that’s when protestors — many of them armed — came from around the country to stand up for Bundy and his family. The Ethics of Liberty Best Price: $15.00 Buy New $18.75 (as of 09:25 EDT - Details)
In the end, BLM agents retreated, and no shots were fired. But 19 people have been arrested in connection with the standoff. Some have pleaded guilty, others have been found guilty in other trials, and others still have been exonerated or taken plea deals with what are expected to be light sentences.
On Tuesday, Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre cast the 71-year-old Bundy, his two sons Ryan and Ammon, and co-defendant Ryan Payne as members of a conspiracy meant to impede law enforcement’s efforts to execute a court order.
Countering that, Defense attorney Whipple showed a video of a federal agent throwing Bundy’s sister, 57-year-old Margaret Huston to the ground. Whipple questioned Myhre’s explanation of the event, which was that Huston had to be pulled away from a moving vehicle for her own safety.
“Videos don’t lie,” Whipple said. “See if Aunt Meg was in front of the vehicle.”
Another video showed Ammon Bundy getting zapped with a stun gun after he drove an ATV into a truck carrying equipment the government was hauling off.
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