Terrorist twice beat federal government in armed rebellion

A federal judge in December threw out criminal charges against a band of terrorists who twice led armed standoffs against federal agents but Ammon Bundy, the Nevada rancher who avoided prison for his role in illegal acts, said he is prepared to launch another confrontation with the government if he feels it is necessary.

The son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Ammon Bundy led the 40-day occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 and he helped organize the 2014 armed standoff against federal agents at his father’s ranch.

In December, a federal judge in Las Vegas threw out the case against four men standing trial — Cliven Bundy, his two sons, Ammon and Ryan, and longtime supporter Ryan Payne — citing misconduct by the FBI and prosecutors who failed to share evidence with defense attorneys.

About three weeks after declaring a mistrial, US District Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed the case with prejudice, dealing a death blow to prosecutors who now cannot refile for a new trial against the defendants who emboldened an anti-federal government movement.

Despite spending two years behind bars awaiting the outcome of criminal trials for the armed standoffs, the Bundy family remained undeterred in their feud with the federal government, one that has gained thousands of supporters in the West.

“I’m not going to run from something like that, but then again, I never was looking for it,” said Ammon Bundy, 42. “But if it is necessary again to limit and bring awareness to what our form of government is doing — and our governments in general are doing it — I think I would have to consider it again.”

“I see myself defending my rights, defending my neighbor’s rights and standing up for injustices, but I don’t see myself going out and picking a fight,” he said. “I hope I don’t have to.”

Bundy and his followers claim the US government does not have the authority to manage territory it owns that comprises about half of the land in 11 western states. The Bundy family’s victories in court, made them heroes of the militia movement and radical anti-government groups that often threatens armed opposition to the federal government.

Western ranchers, politicians, and states’ rights advocates have long sought local control of public land and opposed the expansion of national protections. The Bundy clan, however, has also drawn support from militias and radical anti-government groups. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks extremist groups, has labeled Bundy and his supporters “extremists.”

Bundy, now free and back home in Emmett, Idaho, said he plans to continue the fight over public lands.

That fight, he said, could lead him to take part in yet another armed standoff, or perhaps seek public office.

“I would love to just go back and build my business up again and take care of my children, but man has never been able to do that. For some reason this mortal world has always been designed to make struggle,” Bundy said. “If man doesn’t stand, history proves that liberty is taken, and that man is not really happy.”

An armed Bundy supporter aims his weapon during the 2014 standoff near Bunkerville, Nevada.

An armed Bundy supporter aims his weapon during the 2014 standoff near Bunkerville, Nevada.

The family’s feud with the federal government has spanned more than two decades after Cliven Bundy refused to pay grazing fees for cattle on his Nevada ranch. The fees eventually amounted to more than $1 million and the Bureau of Land Management began to seize the family’s cattle in 2014.

Armed agents were deployed to the area after allegedly receiving threats from Bundy family members and their supporters, who in turn called on the support of not just the public but members of organized militia groups who flocked to Bunkerville, Nevada, armed in a tense standoff.

Federal agents would eventually back down in the Nevada standoff and, hoping to duplicate what many saw as a victory, Ammon Bundy and several supporters headed to Oregon in 2016 to lead a standoff protesting the federal control of public land.

Federal charges were also filed in the Oregon case and several supporters agreed to plead guilty, but leaders of the standoffs would walk away from both cases in what would turn out to be embarrassing defeats for federal prosecutors.

As the Nevada case made its way through court last year, it became apparent prosecutors and law enforcement officials had not been turning over key evidence to defense attorneys. Part of that evidence included video surveillance, the deployment of FBI snipers, and a threat assessment made by federal officials. The violations, the judge found, were severe enough to merit throwing out the case entirely.

For those supporting the Bundy clan, the prosecution’s misdeeds seemed to be proof of Bundy’s claims against the government.

Though drastic, Ammon Bundy defended the decision to launch armed confrontations with the government in both Nevada and Oregon, arguing that doing so brought national attention to the fight over public lands and highlighted the actions of federal officials.

“Our families suffered, but we had to do something,” Bundy said. “I thought we did the right thing.”

Bundy said it was not the only action he would consider in the future, and suggested a change of strategy, one that veers away from armed confrontations and toward public office.

“I would go for for a position that could make a difference,” Bundy said, adding he would consider running for sheriff or governor on a platform advocating for states’ rights. “Until the state comes in and says you can’t control 50, 60, 70% of the land, until they do this, the people are not really safe from the federal government.”

But whether he decides to run or not, Bundy maintains a skepticism of not just the federal government, but politics in general.

“I don’t really care to jump into a pit of snakes,” he said. “I wouldn’t be heartbroken one way or another if I was elected or not.”

Ammon Bundy and supporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, in January 2016.

Ammon Bundy and supporters occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, in January 2016.

For the moment, Bundy is focused on spending time with his family and rebuilding his truck maintenance business, which has struggled in recent years.

“The only reason it would be something to do is because these issues have to be addressed, they have to be handled,” Bundy said. “Maybe nobody else is willing to do it, take the risk.”

The possibility of another confrontation, however, remains open.

Even under the current Trump administration, which is considering slashing the size of national monuments and federally controlled land across the country, Bundy remains skeptical of the federal government.

“The Trump administration wants to be kind masters when the Obama administration wasn’t so kind, but they still want to be masters,” he said. “I guess if they’re going to be masters I would take the kind one, but I don’t think that’s how this nation was built.”

While the Bundy family has escaped conviction in criminal trials in both Oregon and Nevada, the fate of the family’s ranch remains in limbo. Ammon Bundy maintains the federal government has no jurisdiction over his father’s land, and Cliven has no plans to repay the more than $1 million in fees owed.

“The BLM has no right to be on our range,” he said. “My opinion — and this is just my opinion — I don’t think we’ll hear much from them in my dad’s lifetime.”

Officials with the Bureau of Land Management did not comment on whether they will attempt to collect grazing fees for the ranch.

In the meantime, Bundy plans to continue the fight over public land, one way or another.

“What kind of future do you think we’re giving our children?” he said. “We have to win. We have to.”

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