March 22, 2017 - 7:53 pm
Updated March 23, 2017 - 4:18 pm
Undercover FBI agents posed as documentary filmmakers for a production titled “America Reloaded” to draw statements from the men who rushed to support rancher Cliven Bundy in his 2014 stand against the federal government.
The undercover operation has been alluded to in previous court filings, but it was detailed in federal court Wednesday when FBI Special Agent Charles Johnson testified as a government witness in the trial against six men accused of conspiring to block Bureau of Land Management agents from impounding Bundy’s cattle.
Agents videotaped undercover interviews with, among other people, Scott Drexler and Eric Parker — two of the defendants in the first trial. Federal prosecutors played the videos in court Wednesday during Johnson’s testimony, and in doing so, gave jurors a window into the defendants’ minds.
Drexler told the undercover agent he drove to the Bundy family ranch after reading about the protests online.
“What I was looking for was just a show of support … it seems as if when there are armed people around a situation, then the authorities have to be a little more civil, have to treat you like a person,” he said. “If nobody is facing any kind of consequences for their actions, they can just do whatever they want.”
When asked what protesters’ objective was on April 12, 2014, when they arrived en masse to the Gold Butte area where federal agents were impounding cattle, Drexler replied: “Basically the objective that I think there was was just a show of force.”
Drexler said he carried his rifle and his pistol. He assumed a position on the Interstate 15 overpass, overlooking the impoundment site. Federal prosecutors have introduced photos of Drexler pointing his rifle through a crack in the jersey barrier.
“We had the cowboys and Cliven all down below us, and BLM on the other side of the gate,” Drexler said on the footage. He said that when BLM “started moving to the gate with weapons and full combat gear, it started to get a little bit tense.”
The standoff occurred after protesters were told at a morning rally that authorities decided to cease the cattle roundup.
The undercover agent asked what would have happened if “somebody just farted.”
“I don’t think a loud fart woulda put anyone off, but a gunshot sure would have,” Drexler said.
Parker provided a similar narrative. He and Drexler, who are friends from Idaho, drove to the Bundy ranch together.
“I want to stand for the Constitution … I don’t think you have to be in the militia for that,” Parker said on the video. “The goal was peaceful end.”
Parker said he raised his rifle from the bridge to get a clear vantage point.
“If they started shooting at people in the crowd, I would have been able to lay down cover fire,” Parker said, which he later explained was shots used to distract anyone who might have fired at the unarmed men, women and children in the sandy ditch below him.
Johnson had not finished testifying when court adjourned Wednesday. The government is expected to call one more witness before resting its case.
Contact Jenny Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.
DEFENDANT WAS AN INFORMANT
An FBI witness testified on cross-examination Wednesday that defendant Gregory Burleson was a paid FBI informant starting in 2012, two years before the events that led to his indictment as one of Bundy’s co-conspirators.
FBI Special Agent Michael Capato did not disclose the information Burleson provided, but previous testimony has indicated that Burleson was active in Arizona militia groups. It was unclear from testimony when or if Burleson stopped being an informant.