In response to news that federal agents decided to stop rounding up his cattle, rancher Cliven Bundy grabbed a microphone and delivered an ultimatum to the local sheriff.
“Disarm the park service,” he bellowed at a morning rally on April 12, 2014, after Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie announced that the Bureau of Land Management would cease a cattle impoundment operation that resulted from decades of unpaid grazing fees.
“We want those arms delivered … in one hour,” Bundy declared, with the open range behind him and scores of supporters, some of them armed, before him. He also called on the sheriff to “take your county bulldozers and tear down those entry places … where they make us pay the fees” to national parks.
A video of the speech was played in federal court Wednesday during the trial of six men accused of conspiring with Bundy. Prosecutors played several video clips from that day as they tried to piece together for jurors the events that led to the armed standoff in Bunkerville in April 2014. The videos were shot by members of the public who attended the protests.
“Let’s go get those cattle back,” he told supporters. “All we gotta do is open the gate and let them run out, and they’ll be home.”
Some protesters would block the freeway overpass for safety. Dozens of cowboys on horseback would travel up Power Line road. They would meet under the Toquop Bridge, adjacent to the impoundment site where the BLM had corralled the cattle.
“Get ‘er done, cowboys,” Bundy said. “Let’s go get ‘er done.”
Federal authorities had been watching Bundy closely in the days leading up to the standoff. Undercover BLM agents had posed as Bundy supporters to “continually assess the threat,” BLM Agent Adam Sully testified Wednesday. State and federal law enforcement officers were surveilling the scene from planes and helicopters.
Video shot from the highway overpass shows protesters arriving under the bridge carrying flags, with women, dogs and children in tow. The horsemen lined up in front of the crowd. Ahead of them was the gate to the impoundment site. Behind the gate were roughly 20 armed BLM agents, weapons ready.
Some people — such as the six men standing trial — stayed on high ground, guns in hand. The crowd was raucous and vocal.
Most of the videos were played during testimony from Alex Ellis, a teenager who learned of the protests online and drove from Utah the day before to see the events live. Court adjourned Wednesday before defense attorneys had the chance to cross-examine Ellis.
Sully, who was one of the undercover agents, testified that the day before the standoff, Bundy said: “The range war starts tomorrow.”
In cross-examination of Sully, defense attorneys were quick to point out that no shots were fired. They attacked law enforcement actions in the days preceding the confrontation to support their claims that federal agents were the aggressors.
“Would it be safe to say that the only thing hurt out there was the BLM agents’ feelings?” defendant Todd Engel, who is representing himself, asked. U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro did not let the witness answer.