Bundy gets off again as incompetent prosecution causes mistrial

Bundys go free again: scoflaw rancher wins, sort of.

Federal prosecutors fail to bring justice again.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro of Nevada has dismissed the federal government’s criminal case against Cliven Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy, plus militia journalist Ryan Payne. She had recently declared a mistrial in the ongoing trial inside the Las Vegas, Nevada, courtroom. Today (January 8) she dismissed all the charges. They can all go free.

Navorro ruled that the government prosecution and the FBI had engaged in “flagrant misconduct” by failing to disclose important evidence  they held to Bundy’s defense. The trial was over actions in 2014 when the BLM tried to roundup Cliven Bundy’s cattle. At the time, a large group of anti-government volunteers showed up to block the government’s cattle roundup. It had ended in a showdown with the the Feds that Bundy won. At its climax over 30 armed government workers were guarding Bundy’s cattle in corrals down in a dry gulch. Above them they faced perhaps several hundred Bundy supporters, many with weapons. Photos widely published in the media at the time showed some of the Bundy supporters aiming semi-automatic rifles at the government workers who had reclaimed perhaps 400 head of cattle. The workers set his cows free again to defuse what might have been a bloodbath.

A big question for conservationists is whether Bundy can now go back to lawlessly grazing his cattle for free as he had for years on our public lands. The site of his many years of livestock grazing depredations is near the base of the Virgin Mountains near the Nevada-Arizona border east of Bunkerville, Nevada. That’s a stone’s throw from Mesquite, NV. It is also near and inside the new Gold Butte National Monument declared by President Obama in 2016. The Monument is an place of colorful and strange sandstone rocks and cliffs with many ancient petroglyph panels hidden in the creases. Bundy’s lax method of grazing his cows resulted in them wandering mostly unherded over an area almost as large as Rhode Island. All of it was done without paying the required grazing fees.

At the time of the standoff, Bundy owed more than a million dollars of unpaid grazing fees and fines. That’s a lot of free grazing because the size of the fees charged to graze by the BLM have always been rock bottom.

The Bundy standoff was in 2014, but later in January 2016, Ryan and Ammon Bundy and some anti-government, militia types the Bundy’s had gathered up, seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in east central Oregon and held it with guns for over a month. After these militants gave up and were arrested, the Bundys and others went to trial in federal court in Oregon. Most were freed after several trials, although a few participants were convicted and given long sentences.

Although most conservationists would liked to have the participants in these anti-public land actions punished, their major concern has been the conditions of the public lands after such grazing abuse and the many years of lack-lustre BLM management of grazing. The BLM is almost always too deferential and unwilling to protect the public interest from overgrazing on public land whether it is illegally done for free or carried out while technically-compliant with the law. They did have to pay for their actions in either case because the government charged them with one of the most difficult things to prove — conspiracy. Many lesser crimes or misdemeaners would have been easier. No court accepted their contention that the public lands were illegal or somehow belonged to the states, localities or individual ranchers. Nonetheless, conservationists think these events will only breed more attempts to take away our public lands by force or other in ways.

Even today Bundy’s nearly feral cows continue to occupy the area near Gold Butte. Here is a report on the situation published in the High Country News in the fall of 2016. A look at Gold Butte, Nevada, two years after the Bundy standoff Surveyors found illegal cattle grazing, defaced petroglyphs and ditch-digging. By Anna V. Smith.

As one conservationist wrote on Facebook today, “Unbelievable. If government prosecutors can be so inept in an open and shut case like this one, imagine how many Americans are sentenced to death each year because they lacked adequate legal representation.”



Bundy mistrial highlights federal failures to bring criminals to justice

By Erik Molvar

This is an updated version of an article first published in The Hill in December 2017

The mistrial declared in the Nevada case of Cliven Bundy is an outrage. Bundy is the nation’s most notorious scofflaw, organizing armed uprisings where militants point assault rifles at law enforcement officers. Yet federal agencies have taken a kid-gloves approach to calling to account the Bundys’ armed insurgencies in Oregon and Nevada, playing games with the charges and apparently bungling the prosecution.

News photos in the wake of the mistrial show the Bundys celebrating as if the courts had found them innocent of the crimes that sent a few of their followers to prison for as many as 68 years. Meanwhile the ringleaders walk free.

Livestock grazing is the most widespread environmental problem in the American West, and the Bundys are a special case. The Nevada public lands where today the Bundy cattle roam were closed to livestock way back in 1992 to protect endangered desert tortoise habitat. The Bundys have been grazing their livestock illegally on these public lands ever since. To add insult to injury, the Bundys refused to pay rent for their trespassing cattle all these years, racking up more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees owed to the property owners, the American taxpayers.

After the Bundys staged an armed standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada to interfere with a roundup of the trespassing livestock in 2014, the Bureau of Land Management caved in and released the illegal cattle back onto federal lands. They’re still out there, starving on the open range and continuing to impact the fragile desert landscape, in spite of a 2013 court order commanding Bundy to remove them.

According to the old legal saw, justice delayed is justice denied.

In 2016, the Bundy sons, Ammon and Ryan, led a heavily-armed standoff with state and federal law enforcement at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that lasted 41 days and caused millions of dollars in damage. At the time, many questioned why law enforcement allowed the illegal occupation to drag on so long, and whether law enforcement’s response would have been different — more prompt and decisive — had the armed militants been Muslim.

Ammon Bundy beat his conspiracy rap by denying under oath that there was any advance planning before the day of the Malheur armed occupation, and characterizing the Malheur incident as spontaneous. Ammon later contradicted himself by testifying during the trial of another Malheur defendant that he had starting planning the Malheur armed occupation with co-conspirators in December. Why isn’t he on trial for perjury?

The embers of the Bundy land seizure movement have been fanned by Angus McIntosh, an agricultural economist with no legal qualifications. That hasn’t stopped him from barnstorming the West, dispensing advice that ranchers, not the American public, actually own the public lands and are free to ignore the federal land managers whose job it is to regulate commercial uses on federal public lands. The Bundy movement seems to have internalized this crackpot legal doctrine, and the Bundys in turn helped fuel the well-heeled corporate-led effort to privatize public lands.

In a case parallel to the Bundy livestock trespass issue, a federal judge in Nevada subsequently levied penalties and fees of $587,294 against Wayne N. Hage, son of the Godfather of the original Sagebrush Rebellion, and ordered him to remove his livestock from public lands. Hage failed to convince the court that by establishing a water right for livestock on his federal grazing lease, he had established a property right to graze his cattle on public lands without government authorization. In her ruling, the judge schooled Hage on federal property rights, ruling, “No individuals have a right to graze livestock on the federal land at issue without authorization from the United States. … Any and all rights on federal property must be expressly granted by Congress and the law of the United States exclusively governs the disposition of federal property, and interests therein, under the United States Constitution, Article IV.”

Ignorance of the law is no defense. Common criminals who wave around a pocket Constitution are still common criminals. And our legal system should hold them accountable.

The Bundys are like the tenants who trash the apartment and then blame the landlord for evicting them. In this case, federal agencies charged with (and often failing to) responsibly manage western public lands are merely the property managers, working for the real property owners, the American public. These federal agencies have been patient and cautious to a fault in their prosecution of the Bundys and their accomplices. It’s long past time to stop playing games with the prosecution of federal crimes, and instead lay all the facts on the table and let the judicial system work.

If federal agencies broke the law in any way, they should be held accountable under the law. So should Cliven Bundy and his henchmen, and their trespassing livestock. Prosecutorial missteps have now led the judge to dismiss the criminal case, letting Bundy off the hook for paying for his crimes. The least that federal law enforcement can do in the wake of this miscarriage of justice is to remove Bundy’s illegally trespassing livestock, which Bundy himself was ordered by a federal court in 2013 to haul away, from the fragile public lands of Gold Butte National Monument.|

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Erik Molvar is Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, an environmental conservation organization working to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife.



  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Will Bundy go back to running his cattle for free, illegally?
    What in the world has been going on around there since 2014, and especially since the Bundys were locked up? Some people need to go to the Gold Butte/Bunkerville area and take a look.

  2. Nancy Avatar

    An update from a couple of months ago, Ralph. Seems its out of BLM hands?

    Can’t imagine these cows look much better than this picture, taken in 2015.

    This is what everyone’s concerned about:

    “I would do as I did before and peacefully assemble,” Bundy responded, indicating he would travel to the Bunkerville ranch, about 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas (Greenwire, Nov. 10).

    And because of Trump’s election (and Zinke’s appointment) there are a lot more “numbnuts” out there (with guns) just itching for another peaceful assembly, IMHO.


    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Well Nancy, the judge dismissed the charges with prejudice. That means the government cannot bring these charges again in the federal district of Nevada. The government can appeal, but the higher court would have to determine that she (the judge) made an error in dismissing the case because of the prosecution withholding evidence, and it appears they withheld a lot of it . . . why the hell?

  3. WM Avatar

    Very, very disappointing in the short term. Federal Prosecutors read the judge wrong (she is a defendants’ rights champion as a former public defender; she is also an Obama appointee). So, will DOJ appeal this seemingly huge prosecutorial error and seek a new trial, or will they just move on. I’m not quite sure what is left of this case and the old damages judgement but, I think this is still far from over in the big picture.

  4. Phil Maker Avatar
    Phil Maker

    Perhaps some of Bundy’s cattle should get lead poisoned.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Well that’s very rational. Take out your frustrations on those who can’t fight back and are already victimized.

      That was the method under the ineffectual Sally Jewel’s BLM – shoot a few of the cattle to appease the public, and then go on as per usual.

      The truth is, this has been going on for decades, and ranchers have been getting these kinds of free passes for years.

      1. Phil Maker Avatar
        Phil Maker

        The picture of Bundy’s cows (from link Nancy provided above) shows me that they are suffering and that it might be the humane thing to do to shoot them.

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Maybe you ought to discuss someone’s personal property with the owners first, and not take it upon yourself? Or decrease demand by eating less beef generally? Didn’t think so.

          1. Phil Maker Avatar
            Phil Maker

            You think the Bundys are going to listen to anyone regarding the condition of their cows? Wake up. Not even to mention they shouldn’t be out there in the first place for failure to pay their grazing fees for 20 years.

  5. Kevin O Jamison Avatar
    Kevin O Jamison

    Good God, we can only hope and pray that Robert Mueller and his team are not so incompetent. There, it’s the future of our republic at stake.

  6. Mareks Vilkins Avatar
    Mareks Vilkins

    lmao, as I said since Day No1 – Bundy will be ok.


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