The legal ramifications of the 2014 armed standoff over Cliven Bundy’s failure to pay grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management for 20 years continued to ripple out with another jury verdict on August 22. The BLM finally seized cattle belonging to the deadbeat rancher for the dual purpose of getting them off BLM land and selling them for the grazing fee arrearage, an enforcement action they have taken twice in the past against Carrie and Mary Dann, Shoshone sisters who claimed the right to use BLM land under the Treaty of Ruby Valley.
Cliven Bundy claims descent from early Mormon settlers in the area and, despite the “paramount allegiance” clause in the Nevada Constitution, he maintained that if he owed grazing fees then the creditor would be Nevada rather than the federal government. While his legal theory was laughable, it was good enough to become a magnet for self-described (and self-trained) “militias” from all over the west.
Bundy’s cattle were on BLM land in violation of both BLM and federal court orders and he owed over $1 million in grazing fees and penalties when contract cowboys began rounding up the Bundy cattle on April 5, 2014. Responding to Internet alarms, armed men gathered in Nevada and set themselves up to contest the cowboys for possession of the cattle.
On April 10, BLM employees on the scene wisely decided that neither cattle nor grazing fees were worth anybody’s life. When they surrendered the Bundy cattle, the online network of militias celebrated a victory that would later inspire the takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon led by two Bundy sons.
The criminal charges arising from the Bundy standoff are just now coming to trial in Nevada federal courts. In July of last year, U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro sentenced Gregory Burleson, 53, to 68 years in prison for threatening and assaulting a federal officer, carrying a weapon in a crime of violence, obstruction and traveling across state lines in aid of extortion.
Most observers believed Burleson’s case was rendered difficult to defend by his own words in an interview with FBI agents posing as documentary filmmakers. He claimed that he had come from Arizona to cause federal agents to die in a hail of gunfire.
On August 22, militia members with better sense got better results. Richard R. Lovelien and Steven A. Stewart were acquitted of all charges. Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on two charges against Scott Drexler and four charges against Eric J. Parker, all related to assault on a federal officer while carrying a firearm.
In the trial just ended, the judge had ruled at the beginning of the trial that neither the First Amendment nor the Second Amendment protected the conduct of the militias. That ruling resulted in a running battle between the defense team and the judge over what evidence could be presented and how. It was not immediately clear what impact many fights over evidence had on the jury.
The U.S. Attorney has not yet decided whether to retry the cases the jury could not decide. That seems unlikely because the outcome on August 22 was already a retrial of Lovelien, Stewart, Drexler, and Parker. In February, a jury deadlocked on all charges, resulting in this retrial.
The next trial is expected to be Cliven Bundy himself, along with his sons Ryan and Ammon. They have all been in custody awaiting trial since they involved themselves in the armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (formerly the Malheur Indian Reservation) in Oregon.
Mel and Dave Bundy are expected to be tried later.
The U.S. Attorney is not doing well with juries in a part of the country hostile to federal power. It is politically necessary to try the Bundys, but a new joker in the deck since the election may render the entire labor futile.
At a July fundraiser for the Bundys in Las Vegas, the major speaker was Roger Stone, former business partner of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort who has admitted to approaching Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to find dirt on Hillary Clinton. In response to reports that he direct-messaged the alleged Russian hacker, Guccifer 2.0, on Twitter, Stone responded that he was merely praising the hacking that had crippled Clinton’s campaign.
While he withdrew from any official role on the Trump campaign before the election, he has been a Trump advisor since. The ending of Stone’s Las Vegas speech reportedly brought the crowd to its feet:
“Mr. President, hear our cries. Pardon the Bundy family!”