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The first of three schedule trials stemming from an armed standoff in 2014 between the family and followers of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and agents of the Bureau of Land Management is starting with jury selection in U.S. District Court.
KNPR contributor John L. Smith joins us to discuss the case and the legal proceedings.
Smith: “It really starts with Cliven Bundy, and with a movement in the West that is far more than Bundy. It’s that focus on keeping the federal government out of the land management business, turning it over to the states, which is a euphemism for privatizing it on some level. The Bundys are very much folks who can quote the Constitution and that’s their argument.”
Smith explained that the Bundys contend the land is not "owned" by the federal government but by the people. And if the land is "owned" by the people, then state law applies and the top law enforcement person in the area is the Clark County Sheriff.
That argument which wound its way through the court for years came to a final head in April 2014, when the Bureau of Land Management told Cliven Bundy that they were going to gather up his cattle and sell them at auction to pay the more than $1 million in grazing fees a federal judge said he owed.
Bundy started telling his story and attaching the term "range war" to it. That attracted a lot of people, including those who are part of militias and sovereign citizen movements.
Smith: “This had a really snowball effect. The government argues there was a conspiracy component to it. And that’s very important component to the case. But what you appear to have, at the very least, is a scene that comes to a head in which armed citizens were effectively pointing guns at agents of the federal government.”
Armed people started showing up to the Bundy Ranch near Bunkerville. It eventually became a standoff between the BLM and Bundy supporters. The whole thing ended without any bloodshed, but there are pictures of armed supporters pointing weapons at BLM agents.
Now, three years later, there are three tiers of people involved in the whole thing on trial. The first are the so-called "gunmen and followers," the second are "mid-level" people who weren't directly involved but supported the Bundy clan, and finally, the third are the people the government has termed "the leadership," which includes Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy.
While people have complained that the government took too long to arrest the Bundys and their followers, Smith believes it took a long time simply because of the complexity of the issues at hand.
Smith: “I think what they had to do is sort through the information, the misinformation, what adds up to something protected by the First Amendment. I think there was a lot of challenge for the prosecutors for the U.S. attorney’s office to weigh what evidence falls into the criminal category, what is protected speech. And there are essentially some close calls.”
John also updates us with his thoughts about whether the stadium deal can survive without Sheldon Adelson’s money.
Smith: “I think they are very far down the road. I absolutely believe that with that much money – $750 million in public financing available - this is a hard deal not to do… for Mark Davis, but also for Southern Nevada. If there’s going to be a major stadium, even if it’s a major stadium for the UNLV football team, this is an opportunity. This is a real, real opportunity. I’m sure folks were shocked when the Adelson’s pulled out of the deal. Perhaps they could change their minds, who knows. I really believe this is going to be one of those things that will be hard to pass up and if you see other community players coming in to help with financing I wouldn’t be shocked.”
Smith believes it would be a tough sell for Adelson to still be involved after the stadium is built.
John L. Smith, contributor
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