Rancher Cliven Bundy Refuses To Enter Plea In Federal Court
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And now to the case of Cliven Bundy. He's the Nevada cattleman and militia leader who organized an armed standoff against federal land managers near his ranch in 2014. Bundy is facing 16 felony charges, including conspiracy and assault on a federal officer. Yesterday at his arraignment in federal court in Las Vegas, Bundy refused to enter a plea on any of these charges, as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Dressed in red jumpsuit, 69-year-old Cliven Bundy told the judge that he'd be making no plea before this court. His large family watched from cramped wooden benches. Some prayed, many clutching pocket-sized copies of the Constitution. The judge then replied that he'd enter a not guilty plea on Bundy's behalf and set a tentative trial date for later this spring. Richard Pocker is a former U.S. attorney for Nevada who prosecuted anti-federal government groups here in the 1980s and '90s. He says Bundy's refrain is a familiar one.
RICHARD POCKER: In the opinion of most of these protest-type people, the courts have no legitimacy. They have no jurisdiction, so they will challenge it
SIEGLER: For two decades, Cliven Bundy refused to pay federal grazing fees and then ignored federal court orders to remove hundreds of his cows from Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service land. His defiance is widely seen as inspiring his sons to lead the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge earlier this year in Oregon. Bundy's defense team, which is still being assembled, plans to argue that federal lands belong to Western states. And Nevada, they say, has constitutional authority to regulate and control all land within it, and therefore federal law does not apply. Again Richard Pocker.
POCKER: The danger of all of this is that a few articulate people convinced a lot of others that what they believe is actually law and actually the way the Constitution works.
SIEGLER: Federal prosecutors are not giving interviews, but in the 63-page indictment, they allege Bundy and his armed militia led a, quote, "massive assault on federal agents." Prosecutors say the BLM was outnumbered and surrounded by Bundy's supporters as federal agents tried to round up the family's cows. Much of the government's evidence will come from statements Bundy and his co-conspirators made in the media before and after their self-described range war. Bundy and his followers are rarely shy toward TV news cameras.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HONKING)
SIEGLER: Yesterday was no exception. Outside the federal courthouse, about a hundred protesters lined Las Vegas Boulevard waving American flags.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Free Cliven Bundy.
SIEGLER: Some mingled with handguns holstered to their belts. From the courthouse steps above, Homeland Security officers kept a close watch on things.
CAROL BUNDY: I challenge the government's jurisdiction to even have a case against my husband whatsoever.
SIEGLER: Cliven Bundy's wife, Carol, was there with two muscled, tattooed men with buzz cuts by her side, the family's bodyguards.
BUNDY: This is his first offense. He's had no priors. Why is he not being given bail? They'd give that to everybody else. He should be able to go home and be free to set up his defense, to be with his family, to be with those he loves.
SIEGLER: Carol Bundy told me the arrests of her husband and sons up in Oregon is not a setback to her family's cause. What's next for this movement, though, is unclear. For now, supporters like Shelley Shelton, a Nevada state assemblywoman, said the strategy is to pray.
SHELLY SHELTON: God is behind the Bundys, so whatever the will of God is, that is what the outcome of this is going to be.
SIEGLER: Cliven Bundy will return to court next week when the judge is likely to rule he's a flight risk and should continue to be held until trial. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.