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Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy Goes On Trial For 2014 Armed Standoff With Federal Agents

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is officially set to go on trial this week for his role in leading a 2014 armed standoff against federal agents that became a rallying point for militia groups challenging U.S. government authority in the American West.  As Reuters notes, jury selection is slated to start later this morning in a U.S. District Court in Las Vegas after being postponed due to the mass shooting on October 1st that claimed 58 lives.

Jury selection in the latest trial was slated to begin on Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The proceedings were postponed for three weeks after an unrelated mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 in which 58 people were killed.

 

Standing trial with Cliven Bundy, 71, are the two sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who led last year’s Oregon occupation, and a third co-defendant, Ryan Payne, a Montana resident linked by prosecutors to a militia group called Operation Mutual Aid.

 

A fourth co-defendant, internet blogger and radio host Peter Santilli, pleaded guilty on Oct. 6 to conspiracy and faces a possible six-year prison term.

Six lesser-known participants in the Nevada ranch showdown went on trial as a group earlier this year with two men found guilty.  One of the two men was sentenced to 68 years in prison and the other is still awaiting sentencing.  Two of the four remaining defendants were retried and acquitted, and two others pleaded guilty last week to obstructing a court order. Those two each face up to a year in prison when sentenced.

As you may recall, Bundy's Nevada revolt was sparked by a court-ordered roundup of his cattle by government agents over his refusal to pay fees required to graze the herd on federal land.  Hundreds of supporters, many heavily armed, rallied to Bundy’s cause demanding that his livestock be returned. Outnumbered law enforcement officers ultimately retreated rather than risk bloodshed. No shots were ever fired.

The face-off marked a flashpoint in long-simmering tensions over federal control of public lands in the West and was a precursor to Bundy’s two sons leading an armed six-week occupation of a federal wildlife center in Oregon two years later, in 2016 (see: "Now Is The Time To Stand Up": Armed Activists, Militiamen Seize Federal Wildlife Refuge Office In Oregon).  Here's a recap of the events leading up the Oregon standoff:

On Saturday, militants seized a remote government outpost following a protest by hundreds of angry citizens.

 

It all started back in 2001 when Dwight Hammond and his son Steven set fire to leased government land in what they said was an effort to beat back invasive plant species and - ironically - prevent wildfires. They set more fires in 2006 and were later convicted of arson.

 

 

Both men served time in prison but a judge eventually determined that their sentences were too light and ordered them back to jail.

 

"After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation," Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said, in a statement. The elder Bundy weighed in as well, noting that the occuption isn't “exactly what [he] thought should happen." "But I didn’t know what to do,” he added. “You know, if the Hammonds wouldn’t stand, if the sheriff didn’t stand, then, you know, the people had to do something. And I guess this is what they did decide to do. I wasn’t in on that.”

Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with five other people, were previously charged with criminal conspiracy in the takeover of the Wildlife Refuge though that trial ended with the acquittal last year of all seven.