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First Round Of Bundy Trial Begins In Las Vegas

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George Frey/Getty Images

Rancher Cliven Bundy (center) walks with his grandson Braxton Louge along with armed security guards near his ranch house in April 2014. Bundy's ranch, west of Mesquite, Nev., has become a rallying point for protesters who back his fight against the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees.

Jury selection began in a federal courthouse in Las Vegas Monday for six men who were part of an armed standoff between ranchers and federal land officials in 2014.

It all happened, of course, at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nev.

Armed supporters of Bundy faced off with the Bureau of Land Management and other law enforcement who were trying to seize Bundy’s cattle.

Bundy has refused to pay grazing fees since the 1990s. The federal government says he owes them more than $1 million. Bundy says he doesn’t recognize the federal government's authority over the land his cattle graze.

It was highly publicized, and a very tense set of events for those involved.

While the trial that started Monday is not for the main Bundy clan, it is still considered the "Bundy trial," according to NPR's Kirk Siegler.

"This is the big trial," Siegler explained to KNPR's State of Nevada, "This is the government’s case against Cliven Bundy, who is seen at least from the government’s point of view, as the mastermind behind this armed standoff in 2014. And the man who inspired the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a similar protest over federal land policies.”

The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the acquittal last October of the people involved in that standoff will loom large over the trial in Nevada.

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The cases are different but many of the same people are involved and many of the same themes of government control and federal land use policy run through both cases. 

“If you were to have two acquittals in these two very high profile cases where many of the defendants were out in front of the cameras, in some cases posting videos of themselves to YouTube talking about what they were doing, if you were to get a second acquittal the implications would be huge,” Siegler said.

Siegler believes an acquittal in the Bundy case in Nevada has the potential to "embolden" a lot of people to take more actions against what they consider to be government overreach.

While the Oregon standoff case and the Bundy trial in Nevada are similar, Siegler said the underlying issues in Nevada are vastly different.

“It rests right on Cliven Bundy himself, who has alleged to have lead this armed standoff and also defied the federal government, the federal Bureau of Land Management for two decades,” 

As in all federal trials, the lawyers on both sides are taking extreme care in picking jurors, but Siegler believes because of the long-term implications this trial could have there is even more attention being paid to who will be on the jury, which is being drawn from across Nevada.

“In this situation, given all that is going on in the country right now, the stakes are high and both sides want to get this right,” he said.

While lawyers for the federal government believe any decision will set a narrow precedent, Siegler believes there is another side of the coin.

“There are a lot of implications and this could make quite a statement about control of federal public land and this whole effort, at least in some fringes of the Republican party, to try to turn federal land in states like Nevada over to state or local management,” he said.

It is that tug-of-war over public land that has been at the heart of the case from the very beginning, even before armed people showed up at the Bundy ranch in April 2014. 

“This whole fight over federal land speaks to the tugging in different directions of the country right now and the divide between how people want to see things happen in more urban areas and denser places and how people want to see the direction of the country moving in more rural western landscapes,” Siegler said. 

As for Cliven Bundy, his phase of the trial isn't expected to start for several more weeks, possibly months. 

Guests

Kirk Siegler, reporter, NPR 

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