Gregory Burleson, a member of Arizona militia groups who participated in the 2014 armed standoff in Bunkerville, was sentenced Wednesday to more than 68 years in federal prison.
Burleson, 53, was photographed with a long gun during the standoff, moving around the sandy wash where federal agents were headquartered. The Bureau of Land Management was in Bunkerville to carry out a court order to round up rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle from public lands. The operation was unsuccessful after hundreds of protesters, many armed, descended on the small rancher town in southwest Nevada.
“Yes, I was down in the wash. I went down there with the intention to see what was going on,” Burleson said during his sentencing hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.”I did not go down there with the intention of assaulting or killing anyone.”
After the standoff, Burleson, posted incendiary, anti-government messages to his Facebook page.
“I was hell bent on killing federal agents that had turned their back on we the people,” he told an undercover FBI agent who posed as a documentary filmmaker in order to interview him. During the sentencing hearing, Burleson, a Phoenix resident, acknowledged some of his previous errors.
“Yes, I said a lot of crazy things. I’m ashamed of them actually,” he said to U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro. “Looking back at them, it’s like, ‘wow, obviously I shouldn’t drink.’”
Federal agents gave Burleson two alcoholic drinks prior to his undercover interview. He told the judge several times Wednesday that he has a drinking problem and that even small amounts of alcohol can affect his cognitive ability.
Before imposing her sentence, Navarro gave lengthy — and at times emotional — remarks about the effects of the armed protesters actions on the law enforcement officers stationed in the wash. Though no shots were fired, she said, “in some ways a physical injury is better than a mental injury because it scabs, it heals.”
During the trial, prosecutors called numerous law enforcement witnesses to testify about their fear on the day of the April 12, 2014, standoff, as well as the lasting psychological effects of the event. The night before the standoff, Navarro said, one law enforcement agent had to dig a foxhole and sleep in the ground because federal intelligence suggested the hotel where they were staying may be targeted by protesters.
The protesters’ movement was driven by a libertarian faction of the conservative party, considered extremist in mainstream political circles. The movement generally unites behind principles of individual liberties and freedoms, and places a high value on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Comparing Burleson and other protesters to “playground bullies,” Navarro said, “You don’t just go to the tax office and threaten them to not collect taxes.”
The sentence she imposed of 68 years and three months was markedly lower than the 87 years prosecutors had requested.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson said Burleson failed to show any remorse for his actions in Bunkerville, and that he came to the town with a small arsenal of weapons, knives, and swords. Dickinson urged the judge to impose a harsh sentence to deter copy-cat offenders.
“It’s not going to change everyone’s mind, but they’re going to think twice about doing that because they’re going to know there are consequences to those actions,” he said.
Burleson’s health has deteriorated since the standoff. He is blind, suffers some seizures, and requires the use of a wheelchair.
Navarro took into account Burleson’s physical impairment and his alcoholism in reaching her decision. The term exceeds the sentence requested by defense lawyer Terrence Jackson, who asked for a sentence lower than the mandatory minimum of 57 years. Jackson characterized his client as a troubled man who, immediately after the standoff, became obsessed with his “15 minutes of fame” and went to great lengths to maintain his image as an anti-government militiaman.
Burleson also was ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the government, to reimburse taxpayers for the labor and contractor costs of the failed cattle operation. A jury convicted in April of eight counts, including assault, threats, extortion, obstruction of justice, and multiple gun charges.
Contact Jenny Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.