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Government done calling witnesses in Bunkerville standoff trial

The government has finished calling witnesses in the trial of six men charged as armed followers of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy in his 2014 stand against federal authorities who tried to seize his cattle from public lands.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday called their last witness. Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre signaled the government intends to formally rest its case when the trial resumes April 3 after a weeklong break.

Since early February, prosecutors have called dozens of witnesses to testify against the six alleged gunmen. They say the defendants assumed tactical positions on a highway bridge overlooking a sandy ditch where Bureau of Land Management authorities had been impounding cattle. The men were armed, and some of them were photographed pointing long guns at federal agents in the dried-up wash below them.

Dozens of law enforcement witnesses have testified about the threat level the hundreds of protesters posed when they arrived at the impoundment site on April 12, 2014, after they were told at a morning rally that the BLM planned to cease its operations.

What happened after that represents the core dispute in the trial.

Federal prosecutors say the agents were outnumbered, and outgunned — and that they were forced to don body armor and assume military formation in order to defend themselves against a raucous, armed crowd. Defense attorneys, meanwhile, have suggested through cross-examination that their clients only raised their guns to protect women and children protesters against a militant police presence.

What is agreed upon, however, is the tense nature of the standoff situation that ensued. The situation ended when BLM agents aborted their operation and left Bunkerville. That marked the start of a two-year federal investigation that resulted last year in an indictment against Bundy and other people the government describes as his “followers.”

The ongoing trial represents the first of three in a sweeping case against 17 men accused of staging a mass assault on law enforcement. The government presented heaping digital evidence — dash and body cam footage, television reporters’ b-roll, and even interviews that undercover FBI agents conducted with some of the defendants months after the standoff.

Federal investigators posed as documentary filmmakers in order to draw statements from some of the protesters as they were building their case.

Testimony at the trial revealed that one of the men, defendant Gregory Burleson, was a paid FBI informant from 2012 until an undisclosed date. What sort of information he provided was not disclosed, but he was known to be an active member of Arizona militia groups.

The men are standing trial on charges of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aiding and abetting, interference with interstate commerce by extortion, and other counts.

Contact Jenny Wilson at jenwilson@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.

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