The trial is scheduled to begin this morning in U.S. District Court for Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and militia organizer Ryan Payne.
This goes back to the April 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM was trying to execute a court-ordered impoundment of Bundy’s cattle, but the Bundys and their supporters blocked them from rounding up the cattle.
Bundy has become a celebrity among some conservative and libertarian politicians and during jury selection this past week “State of Nevada” contributor John L. Smith noticed one of his biggest supporters taking notes in the courtroom: Right-wing attorney Larry Klayman.
Klayman has been banned from representing Bundy due to an outstanding bar complaint in another state, but that hasn’t prevented him from staying close to the family.
“He has very clearly developed what looks like a friendship and a relationship not just with Cliven Bundy but with the Bundy family," Smith told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Klayman tried to be part of Bundys' defense team but both Judge Gloria Navarro and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied him that chance.
Now, he's sitting in the courtroom taking notes.
“He’s also a national figure," Smith said, "So, to have him in the courtroom taking notes would be interesting even if he weren’t friends with the Bundy family."
Klayman was one of the people who claimed President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States and he also called the former president a secret Muslim.
Smith has talked with Klayman. He said the attorney has expressed admiration for the Bundys and their fight with the federal government.
It is that fight that will be the center of court proceedings for the next few months.
During voir dire, jurors were given a special questionnaire about how they felt about the Oct. 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, "because as we know in our conversations over the last few months there are guns in this story," Smith said.
Some jurors said they could set their feelings about the shooting aside and be fair and impartial, but others told the judge they wouldn't be able to do that.
The assistant U.S. attorney asking the potential jurors questions asked an especially compelling one, Smith said:
“'If someone points a gun at you, do you automatically believe that they’re serious that you’re in danger?' and everyone raised their hand."
Did the federal agents fear for their lives? Was Cliven Bundy the mastermind of the whole standoff? Or was it just a rancher standing up for his rights against an overreaching government? Those are some of the questions at the heart of the case, Smith said.
“What both sides are trying to find is jurors who are focused and also sensitive to some of the issues in the case. The criminal potential of carrying guns to a protest and the idea that perhaps there was intimidation or worse that took place. On the other side, you’ve got folks who see essentially a small businessman having a problem with the federal government and looking at that David and Goliath kind of feel.”
As far as the government is concerned, the issue is cut and dried, according to Smith. Bundy stopped paying grazing fees for running cattle on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. When a court ruled against him on the issue, he was ordered to pay more than $1 million in fees. When he didn't pay, the court ordered the BLM to round up his cattle.
Bundy on the other side says the land doesn't belong to the federal government but instead it belongs to the state of Nevada. He tried to pay the fees to Clark County, but that was rejected because the county doesn't collect grazing fees on federal land.
Smith has interviewed Cliven Bundy several times.
“I found him to be a very compelling character, a colorful character, very sincere. The problem is when you attend court day after day after day and you start to see the internet flow and the social media flow coming from the family and through the family and you include all the militia characters involved and all the ginned up tough guy talk that takes place, it makes it a lot more complex than just a simple cowboy. But whether it rises to the point where folks will see something beyond a reasonable doubt that’s why we’re going to spend the next four months watching”
John L. Smith, contributor
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.