By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
Did the Bundy family and their supporters threaten federal officers by pointing guns at them during the 2014 Bunkerville Standoff in Southern Nevada?
C.J. Hadley, publisher and editor of Range Magazine said no Wednesday on Nevada Newsmakers.
Patrick Donnelly, Nevada director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said yes.
Rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and another co-defendant currently face a Las Vegas trial for allegedly leading an armed uprising against government agents in 2014. A key part of the prosecution is whether or not Bundy, his sons and others threatened federal officers by pointing guns at them.
It proved to be the key debate point Wednesday about the well-publicized Bunkerville standoff and the subsequent trials it has produced.
“The Bundys and their cronies were involved in an insurrection against the police in which many automatic and semi-automatic weapons where pointed at federal officers,” Donnelly said. “And there is photographic evidence of that. That is not in dispute.”
“When I first picked up a gun, I was told you only point a gun at somebody if you are ready to shoot them,” Donnelly said. “So these folks were ready to kill federal officers of the law.”
The Bundys’ lawyer in the current trial in Las Vegas has said his clients didn’t wield weapons and didn’t threaten anybody. Wednesday, Hadley agreed.
“I consider what Patrick Donnelly just said as unadulterated crap,” Hadley said. “The Bundys are guilty of absolutely nothing.”
Hadley pointed to two decisions in recent trials involving Bundy supporters. The latest Bundy trial was postponed this week when questions surfaced about federal prosecutors giving complete records of evidence to the defense.
“In the two (Bunkerville standoff) cases that have already come before Judge Navarro in Las Vegas, 10 to 1 to acquit the first time, 11 to 1 to acquit the second time because there was absolutely no proof that anyone on the Bundy side threatened anybody on the federal side,” Hadley said. “Zero.”
Donnelly then countered:
“Juries may not always be the wisest arbiters of the law. In this case, we had a picture of them pointing the weapons at the officers and the jury said, ‘You didn’t threaten the officers.’ So that is ludicrous.”
Donnelly repeated during the debate that photographs of Bundy’s group showed them pointing guns at federal officers.
“He was covering the innocent,” Hadley said, not specifying which photo she was referencing.
A quick internet search produced a photo from the Reuters News Service of protester Eric Parker from central Idaho aiming his weapon from a bridge next to the Bureau of Land Management’s base camp where Cliven Bundy’s cattle were seized because Bundy did not pay federal grazing fees. The photo caption, however, does not say where Parker was aiming his gun.
“These were the police and we had over 100 individuals who showed up with semi-automatic weapons and trained them on officers,” Donnelly said.
The Bundys’ lawyer in the current court case has said his clients didn’t wield weapons and didn’t threaten anybody.
Hadley agreed and cited an unnamed lawyer’s response on the issue. She said it is not illegal to carry a weapon in the vicinity of federal agents. Hadley’s reply from the lawyer included this statement:
“Federal officers and employees have no right under the law to operate in an environment that is completely free of people lawfully possessing weapons including firearms,” she said. “Also, self defense is considered a lawful use of a firearm and is fully lawful under applicable Nevada law. If a person is not the aggressor — i.e. Bundy and his family — and is in legitimate fear of being seriously injured or killed, he may be fully justified in pointing a weapon and exercising deadly force in self defense. ”
Donnelly remained adamant that pointing a gun at a federal officer is against the law.
“Again, we can debate the merits of the argument about public lands. But there is no debate when you point a weapon at a federal officer. It is a violation of the law and you are threatening to kill that individual,” Donnelly said. “And that is totally unacceptable behavior and and it is unacceptable for our elected officials like (Las Vegas City Councilwoman) Michele Fiore to come out in support of that.”
Fiore’s comments during a recent Nevada Newsmakers interview prompted Donnelly to respond to the statewide news program.
Fiore, a former member of the Nevada Assembly, has been a vocal defender of the Bundys and associates since the 2014 armed confrontation.
Fiore also went to Oregon in 2016 to help with negotiations when members of the Bundy family and associates seized a federal wildlife refuge building in protest of BLM policies. An Oregon federal jury later acquitted Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five others.
Fiore told Nevada Newsmakers none of the Bundys were armed during the confrontation. One Bundy, however, had a “six-shooter,” Hadley said.
“There was not one Bundy, except for Ryan Bundy, who had even a weapon on him at Bunkerville,” Hadley said. “Ryan Bundy had a six-shooter, which should have been at the OK Corral. It had six shots in it. Thirty shots come out of those guns that all of the federal employees had.”
The pistol of Ryan Bundy — a defendant in the current Las Vegas trial — was never taken out of the holster during the confrontation, Hadley said.
“He (Ryan Bundy) was actually with (Las Vegas) Metro Police during the whole time,” she said. “This is absurd. They were not shooting guns. They did not aim guns. The militia came in and tried to protect them from the weapons that were being shown on all of those innocent people who were trying to save Bundy’s ranch in the wash.”
No shots were fired during the standoff. The Bundys and their supporters have considered the standoff as a victory.
Yet federal officers avoided violence by showing restraint, Donnelly said.
Donnelly also suggested that the Bundys and their supporters may have encountered a more aggressive federal action if they had a different skin color.
“I would like to offer that if the Bundys and their fellow insurrectionist were a different skin color perhaps, or a different religion, that they would have been slaughtered indiscriminately,” Donnelly said. “So I think the federal law enforcement authorities showed incredible restraint, given the fact that there was a militia pointing automatic, semiautomatic weapons at them. They chose not to engage and de-escalated that situation, which prevented an blood bath. And I think they should be lauded for that.”
Cliven Bundy did not pay grazing fees to the federal government for years and had rolled up a bill of about $1 million, Donnelly said.
“Cliven Bundy and his ilk were breaking the law,” he said. “They were grazing their cattle illegally by not paying their grazing fees. And they were breaking the law for many, many years.
“This was not just ‘oops, we broke the law once.’ This was 21 years of not paying their grazing fees, which is including fees and taxes,” Donnelly said. “He (Cliven Bundy) owed $1 million. And their premise was, ‘This isn’t your land to charge me grazing fees on.’ Well, the law says differently. Then they mounted an armed insurrection because they chose not to pay their taxes.”
Federal officers should not have been carrying weapons, Hadley said.
“What happened to get all of the people with weapons to the Bundy Ranch was extraordinary,” she said. “The BLM, they are really not police. They are federal-land managers and biologists and they shouldn’t even be carrying weapons. And the new Department of Interior is de-weaponinzing park rangers and the BLM because they are not cops. The jurisdiction on the Bundy Ranch is the Clark County Sheriff. They were in control and they should have stopped the federal agents from coming in there with uniforms like they are in Iraq or Afghanistan with M-4s and M-16s with no decals on the trucks so you couldn’t tell ATF from the Park Service, BLM from FBI.”