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Cliven Bundy And Sons Face A Jury As Federal Trial Opens In Las Vegas


A federal trial opens in Las Vegas today. This is over a 2014 standoff where ranchers drew guns against federal agents. So far, prosecutors have struggled to convict Cliven Bundy and his sympathizers in related cases. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: It's been more than three years since Cliven Bundy led an armed standoff against federal agents near the family's ranch, and in that time, there was another armed standoff in Oregon and several failed attempts by federal prosecutors to convict the ranchers' militia followers. But this is the big case, the first time Cliven Bundy faces a jury. And in this trial, he and his two sons, Ammon and Ryan, and militiaman Ryan Payne are accused of assault and threatening federal officers and other felony conspiracy charges.



SIEGLER: It was a tense and volatile scene in that desert wash back in April of 2014 when federal agents showed up in riot gear but were forced to stand down. Cliven Bundy later declared victory to his cheering supporters, saying the federal government had no place on public lands in the West.


CLIVEN BUNDY: Take the guns away from the United States bureaucrats.




SIEGLER: Until his arrest more than a year and a half later, Bundy and his followers did what they wanted in their corner of southern Nevada.

JOAN ANZELMO: It's just unconscionable.

SIEGLER: This is Joan Anzelmo, a retired federal land manager and frequent Bundy critic.

ANZELMO: When you look at the amount of weaponry that all of these followers had with them, the federal agents were outgunned, and they made the right decision to not continue the standoff and to back down so that no one would die.

SIEGLER: There is a lot of pressure on federal prosecutors to get a conviction, especially after Bundy's sons were acquitted for their role in an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier cases in the Nevada standoff trial also ended in hung juries and acquittals on certain counts. Joan Anzelmo says an acquittal for Cliven Bundy, too, would send a chilling message to federal employees in the West.

ANZELMO: People are really going to take notice and say, well, why are we doing this job? Why are we taking care of these places when federal law can be ignored?

SIEGLER: When Cliven Bundy was arraigned last year, he said he refused to recognize the federal government in its control of U.S. public lands, not to mention, the federal court system. He even refused to enter a plea. His supporters and defense attorneys in these cases have since backed away from that, arguing the standoff was a protest and guns were only drawn in self-defense. Judges mostly shut down arguments that these cases were about ownership of federal land, instead focusing narrowly on what the men did. Now, a lot of the family's strategy seems to have rested on getting sympathetic juries, but some see a possible game changer, the unrelated mass shooting earlier this month on the Las Vegas Strip. John Moore is a Bundy family friend and former state legislator from southern Nevada.

JOHN MOORE: Unfortunately, I think they're going to get thrown under the bus.

SIEGLER: Moore fears a high-profile trial like this where men are defending their use of guns will be tougher to win now. Motions to move the trial were denied. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "THE APARTMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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