- By Diana Baird (EMMETT) MESSENGER INDEX firstname.lastname@example.org
- Idaho Press-Tribune
Gem County residents Ammon and Lisa Bundy never thought their fight over grazing and water rights for their ranch would be a focus of national attention.
The Bundys see themselves as defenders of the Constitution, standing up for what they believe in. Lisa Bundy said her husband is in federal prison now because he was “defending his neighbors and challenging the federal government over his rights.”
“We are supposed to fight for our rights and fight for our land. This is God-given land, and he has designated us to take care of it,” Lisa Bundy said.
Ammon Bundy, his father and brother are in federal prison awaiting trial on charges stemming from an armed standoff that stopped government agents from rounding up Bundy cattle near Bunkerville, Nevada, in 2014.
Jury selection is set to start Oct. 10 in Las Vegas for Ammon Bundy, his father Cliven Bundy, Ammon Bundy’s brother Ryan Bundy and two other men.
Two other defendants’ retrial ended last month with acquittal on most charges and no verdicts on assault on a federal officer and weapon counts.
The men are accused of leading a conspiracy to enlist self-styled militia members to prevent federal agents from enforcing court orders to remove Bundy cattle from what is now Gold Butte National Monument.
Cliven Bundy says he doesn’t recognize federal authority over public land where he says his family has grazed cattle since the early 1900s.
The federal Bureau of Land Management says Bundy racked up more than $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties over two decades before the cattle roundup began.
The Bundys and two of the defendants each face 15 charges including conspiracy, assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, obstruction and extortion. Convictions on all charges carry the possibility of more than 100 years in federal prison.
Ammon Bundy’s wife, Lisa Bundy, spoke with the (Emmett) Messenger Index about their experience and the support her family has received from the local community.
The Bundys come to Gem County
The Bundys moved to Gem County in June 2015. Seeing the American flag waving at Freezeout Hill and the banner at Emmett High School reading “Small town, big time football” were signs to them that this was the place they wanted to call home.
Lisa Bundy said that God led them to Gem County through a series of confirming events. They bought a home with an apple orchard for them and their six children ranging from 2 to 15 years old.
Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, was given his father’s cattle ranch in southeastern Nevada shortly after he finished high school.
His ancestors were some of the first to settle in the southern Nevada desert and had the ranch since the early 1900s, according to Lisa Bundy.
Cliven Bundy raised his large family in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a rancher busy raising kids and cows. A dispute arose between Cliven and federal Bureau of Land Management when Bundy didn’t renew his permit for cattle grazing on BLM-administered lands to protest changes to grazing rules.
According to the Associated Press, the dispute has roots of nearly half a century over public lands in Nevada and the West, where the federal government manages vast expanses of lands. For over two decades, Cliven Bundy racked up more than $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties, according to the AP.
The BLM revoked Cliven Bundy’s grazing rights after he stopped paying grazing fees and disregarded federal court orders to remove his animals. The debate between Cliven Bundy and the BLM widened into a debate about states’ rights and federal land-use policy.
Lisa Bundy said the Bundy family has been grazing cattle on the Nevada range for 138 years. She said the federal government told him he had to start paying grazing fees. Cliven Bundy knew the Constitution, but he didn’t know much about the law. Lisa Bundy said he “hit his knees” and prayed to know what to do. She said the spirit told him to study the Constitution inside and out and have it memorized.
Lisa Bundy said Cliven Bundy’s position is that the state has its rights, and if he were to pay grazing fees, it would be to the state of Nevada — not the federal government.
According to documents from the Department of the Interior, the dispute began in 1993 when Cliven Bundy declined to renew his permit for cattle grazing on federal lands near Bunkerville, Nevada.
In 1998, in a ruling in United States v. Bundy, Cliven, the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada prohibited Bundy from grazing his cattle on the Bunkerville Allotment. In July 2013, the BLM complaint was supplemented when federal Judge Lloyd D. George ordered that Bundy refrain from trespassing on federally administered land in the Gold Butte, Nevada.
Lisa Bundy said the BLM enacted a “no cattle” policy designed to remove all ranching from the area. According to documents in the Federal Register, on March 27, 2014, 145,604 acres of federal land in Clark County, Nevada, were temporarily closed for the “capture, impound and removal of trespass cattle” by the BLM. This led to a temporary closure to public access, use and occupancy in 2014.
In April 2014, the disagreements with the government agencies came to a head, according to Lisa Bundy. Eleven water infrastructures were being removed, and cattle were being killed and removed by the BLM, she said. The Bundy families and friends began to protest, and soon, thousands began flowing to the ranch to support their cause.
This armed standoff with federal authorities made national news. The BLM eventually released the cattle, and the protesters drove the cattle back to their ranch.
Lisa Bundy said Ammon Bundy did not carry a gun the day of the standoff. Cliven Bundy asked him to cook and serve the people who came to protest.
In all, 19 protesters were arrested in early 2016, nearly two years after the Bunkerville confrontation, according to the AP.
At an August 2017 trial in Las Vegas, the AP reported that prosecutors characterized the standoff as an armed uprising by self-styled militia members who answered a Bundy family call to take up arms to prevent the lawful enforcement of multiple court orders to remove Bundy cattle from what is now the Gold Butte National Monument. The AP reported the defense attorney cast the tense standoff as an ultimately peaceful protest involving people upset about aggressive tactics used by federal land managers and contract cowboys.
Ammon Bundy remains in custody in a federal prison along with Cliven Bundy, Ryan Bundy and four others who will face a trial beginning Oct. 10. He has been in custody without bail.
Malheur Refuge standoff
In late 2015, Ammon Bundy went to Burns, Oregon, to join a protest of the federal imprisonment of the Hammond family in Harney County, Oregon. The Hammonds were experiencing the same types of situations with federal agencies, Lisa Bundy said.
Dwight Hammond, 74, and his son Steven, 43, were sentenced to federal prison for resisting federal agencies and arson for setting fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006.
“I know that God was using (Ammon) as a tool to teach,” Lisa Bundy said. “Several times he taught the Constitution at the University of Arizona and even to politicians who reached out to him.
“I just want to make sure that people know that my husband cared about the Hammonds,” Lisa said. “He talked to a lot of ranchers in the area, and they all experienced the same things.”
After what started out as a peaceful protest, a group led by Ammon Bundy proceeded to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County.
On Jan. 2, 2016, Ammon Bundy and several others took over and occupied the refuge, which dominated the headlines and daily newscasts for the next three weeks.
The occupiers made demands to turn over the federal land to local land owners and destroyed part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fence.
On Jan. 26, 2016, according to the Oregonian, Oregon State Police and the FBI confronted protest leaders on U.S. 395 north of Burns as they were heading to a community meeting. During the confrontation, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed, Ryan Bundy was shot in the arm and five people were arrested, including Ammon Bundy. By day’s end, six more occupiers were in custody.
A total of 19 people were arrested and charged in connection with the standoff, which finally ended Feb. 11, after four holdouts surrendered.
On Oct. 27, 2016, a jury acquitted Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and five others of conspiracy, weapons and theft charges after a five-week trial, according to the Oregonian.
Though acquitted, the Bundys were not set free, and remain in custody to face federal charges over the Nevada Bunkerville standoff.
Lisa speaks about the community
Living as a single parent with her husband in prison is the hardest thing Lisa Bundy said she has ever had to face.
“We have a lot of church and community support,” Lisa Bundy said. “When everything happened, and our friend LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed, and Ammon was arrested in Oregon, our church came in and took over.”
She said they provided meals for her and the children and cleaned their home, as she was in a state of shock and numbness. She said the community support has been phenomenal.
“My husband would not have done this unless he felt guided to do it,” Lisa Bundy said. “I know God has a purpose in all things.
“I have met certain people, and my children have been on certain sports teams for a reason, and it’s a beautiful process the way God works. This whole thing is spiritual — the entire thing,” she said.
Idaho lawmakers want an end to the “long enduring action”
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions dated Aug. 28, 31 members of the Idaho Legislature, as well as two former senators and three former representatives, called for an end to the Bunkerville standoff case.
The letter says the lawmakers seek to protect their citizens’ constitutional rights and the right to a speedy trial. The letter speaks specifically of defendants Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Eric Parker and Scott Drexler, all of Idaho, who were charged with 40 criminal counts in connection with the Bunkerville case.
“We believe that the decision by the current U.S. Attorney of Nevada to prosecute these men a third time represents disrespect for the rule of law and the jury system,” the letter states. “The decision of 10-2 to acquit in the first trial and 11-1 to acquit in the second trial highlights the narrow margin by which the prosecution hopes to continue their attack. A third trial would show blatant disregard for tax funds collected from hard working law abiding citizens who are represented by these juries who have found them innocent of 34 out of the 40 charges and hung by the very slimmest margins in those where the jury stood deadlocked.
“Being found not guilty speaks volumes to the public of their innocence. U.S. attorneys have been unsuccessful obtaining guilty verdicts not once, but twice, establishing criteria for dismissal of charges against them according to our standards of justice. Further exploitation of these citizens would be an affront to justice and notice to the public of prosecutorial harassment.”
State Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said there are other representatives who will also join in agreement with the 34 letter signers. District 8 legislators include State Rep. Terry Gestrin, State Rep. Dorothy Moon and State Sen. Steven Thayn. To view a copy of the complete letter to U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions go to: messenger-index.com.
“One trial is $1.2 million of taxpayers’ money,” Moon said. She plans to attend the October trial in Nevada to show her support.
Meanwhile, Lisa Bundy awaits what she hopes is the return of her husband to his family in Gem County.
“You know we are supposed to fight for our rights and fight for our land, this is God given-land, and he has designated us to take care of it,” she said. “I am sustained because my heavenly father sustains me.”