BUNKERVILLE — Jubilation was in the air Friday at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, with family members of the imprisoned patriarch calling the acquittal of two of his sons for seizing a national wildlife refuge in Oregon a “vindication” of the family’s feud with the federal government.
“Justice has been served and we were part of a miracle,” Bundy’s beaming wife, Carol, told the Review-Journal at the Bundy ranch, nine miles southwest of this unincorporated Clark County town, referring to the Oregon jury’s exoneration of the couple’s sons Ammon and Ryan and five other anti-government defendants Thursday in Portland.
She had just finished speaking by phone to Ammon, who remains behind bars in Oregon.
“Their thoughts were finally they’ve been vindicated,” she said. “And their thoughts went immediately to LaVoy Finicum, because his death now has been vindicated, too. With them being not guilty, he also is not guilty.”
Finicum, a 54-year-old Arizona rancher and spokesman for the self-styled militia group, was shot and killed by Oregon state police Jan. 26, the same day Ammon and Ryan Bundy were arrested.
The group had ventured outside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to deliver a message about federal overreach on public lands in an eastern Oregon town when they encountered a roadblock set up by FBI agents and local law enforcement. Authorities said Finicum was shot by state police when, after exiting the vehicle and raising his hands, he twice appeared to reach for his coat pocket, where police later found a loaded 9 mm pistol.
‘A WAKE-UP CALL TO AMERICA’
That night Cliven Bundy was in his ranch house and told the Review-Journal, “This will be a wake-up call to America. … I’m against federal people killing innocent people.
“I’ll tell you one thing: My sons and those who were there were there to do good. No harm was intended. They would have never threatened anybody. They was trying to teach people about the Constitution.”
That was one of his last interviews before his arrest Feb. 10 following a flight to Portland to support the protesters at the wildlife refuge.
He was charged with 16 felonies in connection with an April 2014 armed standoff near Bunkerville, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, where federal agents had rounded up his cattle on the Gold Butte range.
Cliven Bundy remains in custody in Pahrump, where he and sons Melvyn and David await trial in February with other defendants in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. Ammon and Ryan Bundy also face charges in connection with that incident and are expected to be extradited from Oregon soon.
The atmosphere at the Bundy ranch was far lighter Friday than it was on that cold January night.
Carol Bundy, 62, her face no longer drained from stress, smiled as she sat on a wooden bench with peeling turquoise paint and spoke about assimilating the news of the acquittal. The conversation was punctuated by laughter from her barefoot grandchildren playing in the front yard and roosters crowing in the back.
But she said her sons are weary of the legal ordeal and hopeful it is nearing an end.
“They’re tired of being locked up. They’re tired of being unfairly held way from their families,” she said.
She said the wait since the arrests of her sons and husband has “been a long hard ride,” but she was buoyed by the Oregon verdicts and is “hoping everything gets dismissed” before the trial in Nevada.
“We’re moving forward with some other motions, a lot of discovery,” she said. “We have a lot of things that we can hit them with here in Nevada that they don’t even know.”
Meanwhile, federal officials who have waged a long-running battle with Cliven Bundy over his refusal to pay grazing fees for cattle that roamed on public lands expressed concern over the verdicts and urged front-line employees to be vigilant.
In a message to Interior Department employees, Secretary Sally Jewell said she was “profoundly disappointed” by the verdict and “concerned about its potential implications for our employees and for the effective management of public lands.”
She called on employees to respect the court’s decision and continue their work safely and professionally.
“In the coming days and weeks, I encourage you to take care of yourselves and your fellow employees,” Jewell wrote. “The armed occupation in Oregon was and continues to be a reminder that employees in all offices should remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to your supervisor and, where appropriate, law enforcement officials.”
Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze struck a similar tone in a message to employees, saying he was concerned “about the potential impacts of yesterday’s verdict.”
He didn’t elaborate, but conservation groups warned that the acquittals in Oregon could embolden militia groups and lead to increased threats and attacks against federal employees and property.
Citing documents obtained from the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a Freedom of Information Act request, the Colorado-based Center for Western Priorities said Friday that government employees are regularly threatened by militia and so-called sovereign citizens groups, which routinely use public lands for training.
One longtime activist for private land rights believes Thursday’s verdict will “embolden more people to take on the federal government,” but he says that could be a good thing so long as those challenges are peaceful.
“My advice to people is not to involve firearms when they do it,” said Chuck Cushman, founder and executive director of the American Land Rights Association, a Washington state-based advocacy group.
Cushman said he has organized three different peaceful — and firearm-free — protests at the Malheur refuge over the past 20 years, and it was his email alerts about the situation there involving an Oregon ranch family that helped draw the Bundys into the fray.
“I don’t approve of how they did what they did,” Cushman said. “But I don’t criticize the Bundys for protesting and bringing attention to the government for overreaching and being too heavy-handed.”
Contact Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2.Contact Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.
See a timeline of events leading up Cliven Bundy’s conflict with the Bureau of Land Management in 2014. Also, see the most recent reports involving Bundy and his family.