Another Travesty of Justice; or, yes, the Bundys Again


I held off for a few days to give myself time to take a breath and cool down before taking up Monday's mistrial ruling in the trial of Cliven Bundy and sons Ammon and Ryan on conspiracy, weapons, and other charges related to a 2014 armed standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada.

The mistrial was declared because the prosecution and government purposely withheld key evidence from the defense. The feds claimed that fears of violence against witnesses was "part of their decision-making in what evidence to release" (Johnson, NY Times). The concern is reasonable, but the prosecution failed to convince the judge that it was sufficiently grave to outweigh the obligation to inform the accused of the evidence against them. We are left to wonder just what factors entered into the other part of their decision-making.

This follows the October 2016 acquittal of Ammon and Ryan Bundy of all charges stemming from the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, earlier that year. Federal prosecutors failed to distinguish themselves in either fiasco.

I am not quite cynical enough to believe that the fix was in and prosecutorial missteps were a deliberate means to give the Bundys a pass. While I would not put this kind of thing past Trump, Sessions, and their minions, the Malheur verdict was delivered and the Nevada prosecution got underway on the watch of Barack Obama and Eric Holder.

Be that as it may, how is it possible to take up arms against local and federal law enforcement agents, threaten federal employees, and occupy federal land and buildings without being guilty of some crime for which the Justice Department is capable of securing a conviction? My mind is fairly boggled.

Cliven Bundy is a scofflaw who owes the federal government more than $1 million in unpaid fees for grazing his cattle on public land. He has not paid the fees since 1993 and has said he does not recognize the United States government "as even existing" (Sneed, Politico). His sons are nuts that did not fall far from the tree. My grandmother would use words like "sorry" and "no-account" to describe them all.

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions has a laser-like focus on threats to the national fabric posed by women cleaning the rooms at Motel 6, farm workers selling their labor for a pittance, local government officials in "sanctuary" cities and in states that have legalized marijuana, and of course potheads in those states. Armed insurrection by men and women of the Caucasian persuasion is apparently not on his radar.

Bundyistas are giddy over the outcome and feel empowered by it. Not everyone is with them. People are rightly concerned about what will come next. Burns, Oregon, resident Liz Appelman, who worked for the Bureau of Land Management for more than 30 years, spoke for many of us: "I am totally flabbergasted that the government could do such a lousy job twice.... A lot of people, myself included, were hoping that Nevada would have them pay some sort price for what they did. And the government screwed it up." (Peacher, OPB)

References

Kirk Johnson, Charges Against Bundys in Ranch Standoff Case Are Dismissed, The New York Times, January 8, 2018

Amanda Peacher, With Bundys Free, What's Next In Oregon And Beyond?, Oregon Public Broadcasting, January 10, 2018

Adam Sneed, Bundy and BLM: 10 things to know, Politico, April 15, 2014

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David Matthews

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