Jury Selection Underway In Conspiracy Trial For Bundy Followers

Feb 6, 2017
Originally published on February 6, 2017 10:50 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Nevada, the criminal case against the rancher Cliven Bundy and his militia followers is getting started. Federal prosecutors have charged Bundy and 16 other co-defendants with several felonies, including assault on a federal law enforcement officer. The case comes from a tense standoff in Nevada back in 2014 between government agents and Bundy and his armed supporters. NPR's Kirk Siegler has been following the case, and he's outside the courthouse in Las Vegas. Hey, Kirk.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Hello, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So there's a lot to talk about here, but first we need to say this case is separate from the recent trial in Oregon which also involved the Bundy family, right?

SIEGLER: That's right, and Cliven Bundy's sons were acquitted up there. Now, they still face charges down here. Many of the organizers of that occupation still face charges down here from the standoff in 2014 in Nevada. This is the big one. This is the big case against Cliven Bundy, who's widely seen as the ringleader and the sort of mastermind behind this anti-federal government movement in the West, who - not only involving this case with the standoff, but is also sort of the mastermind and seen as sort of a planner, at least according to the government's view of that situation up in Oregon.

MCEVERS: So how does that unexpected acquittal in the Oregon case change the federal prosecutor's strategy there in Nevada?

SIEGLER: Well, it's a big question, and I think it has to. I mean, they're for sure rethinking their strategy. The - you know, the pressure is really on the federal prosecutors here. They've got to prove through evidence that these men intended to harm people - that they intended to inflict violence on Bureau of Land Management agents who had come to round up Cliven Bundy's cows - that this wasn't just sort of a protest against what they saw as an overreaching federal government or some sort of free speech. If, in fact, you were to have two acquittals here, that would be huge. It could embolden more occupations, more armed standoffs and more confrontations when it comes to land management on public lands.

MCEVERS: There are 17 defendants in all. They're in Nevada. So the judge, I understand, split the case into three parts. Cliven Bundy and his sons aren't expected to be in court for weeks. What was the scene like inside the courtroom today?

SIEGLER: Well, they're just pulling jurors today. It was interesting watching one of the defense lawyers asking the jurors if they had any problems or if they were uncomfortable at all with guns because they were going to be showing a lot of images from social media and a lot of photos of some of these militia men wearing fatigues and camo and being heavily armed and if that would sway them.

And it's also interesting to note, like in the Oregon case, the jury pool is going to come from a large swath of southern Nevada, so there are going to be a lot of attention on who these jurors are and where they come from. And it's hard to find someone who wasn't following this standoff, even though it's been almost three years. And in some of the more rural areas that some of these jurors may be coming from, you may find more sympathy to this sort of anti-establishment, anti-government cause that the Bundys promote.

MCEVERS: As you have reported, the Bundys are about a lot more than cattle ranching. I mean, just remind us about their movement and who's behind them.

SIEGLER: That's right. As I'm standing out here in front of the courthouse, I can see some of their supporters waving Don't Tread on Me and American flags. And, you know, looking back on this 2014 event, I think you can say it was really a precursor to some of this anti-establishment, anti-federal government sentiment that really helped propel Donald Trump into office.

I mean, people out there were rallying on behalf of the Bundys. There were many people who didn't have anything to do with ranching. There were people from internet talk shows, conspiracy theorists. There was even a man who was a organizer for Donald Trump up in New Hampshire who actually pled guilty in this case. You know, three years on, some of these voices, I think it's safe to say, are quite prominent in some areas of the mainstream of American politics. So to predict how this trial is going to go - it's really difficult to say.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler in Las Vegas. Thank you.

SIEGLER: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.