PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Cleared of charges related to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Ammon Bundy testified Tuesday on behalf of the second round of defendants that the occupation was planned well in advance of its Jan. 2, 2016, launch – the opposite of what he testified in his own trial.
For the first time, Bundy told the jury that he first discussed “taking a hard stand” by occupying the refuge on Dec. 16, 2015 – more than two weeks before the occupation. This past October, he testified that the occupation was spontaneous and said he first mentioned it during a meeting an hour before the Jan. 2, 2016, protest in support of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.
A judge had ordered the father and son back to jail to serve the balance of their mandatory minimum sentences for two arson fires on public land.
Bundy told the jury in October that he held a meeting Jan. 2 at Ye Olde Castle, a tavern in Burns, and asked a group of about 30 supporters to join him in taking over the refuge later that day.
“I proposed to them that we go up to the refuge and that we basically take possession of it and give these lands back to the people,” he said on the witness stand during his trial.
But on Tuesday, he told the jury that was not the first time he had discussed the plan with his supporters.
“We also talked about it on the day after the formation of the Committee of Safety,” Bundy said. Bundy helped sympathetic locals found the committee on Dec. 15.
“I thought we had to go into the refuge and occupy it and that would wake everyone up to what was happening,” Bundy testified Tuesday. “We have a right to peacefully assemble and petition our government for a redress of grievances.”
Bundy said several committee members didn’t like the idea, so they tabled it.
There were incongruities in Bundy’s testimony during direct and cross-examination in the first trial as well.
In that trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight asked Bundy about statements he had made under direct examination. Using his usual earnest tone of voice, Bundy denied or claimed not to remember events he had just described.
Bundy changed his tune about whether he was the leader of the occupation, claimed not to remember whether he was in Burns in November 2015 for a series of meetings he had earlier described having with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, and said he didn’t remember talking about making changes to the refuge.
During questioning from his lawyer Marcus Mumford, Bundy had detailed the “improvements” he and his fellow occupiers made to the refuge in line with their belief that they could claim the deed to the federal property through the legal doctrine of adverse possession.
But he backpedaled when Knight asked him about the legal process he had earlier described with enthusiasm and certainty.
“So you could take those steps in any federal facility and it would be yours?” Knight asked.
“No,” Bundy said. “There’s a process. There’s a time. There’s a thing. You have to have a legitimate dispute. You can’t just go do it for no reason.”
To which Knight responded, “So you would decide what that reason would be and go do it?”
Bundy answered, “That would be the challenge.”
Knight pushed Bundy on Tuesday regarding the charges for which the government failed to secure convictions in the first trial: conspiracy to prevent federal employees from working.
“So employees couldn’t work while you did your protest?” Knight asked.
“It is inconvenient sometimes to petition your government for redress of grievances,” Bundy responded.
And Knight touched on Bundy’s contention that the government never actually asked the occupiers to leave the refuge.
“Mr. Bundy, is it your testimony that you have to be told to leave a place where you do not belong?” Knight asked.
“I believe we did belong there,” Bundy said.
Bundy is currently facing charges in a separate case, stemming from the 2014 standoff with Bureau of Land Management employees at his father Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch. He was transferred to jail in Oregon over the weekend in anticipation of the defense’s plan to call him as its first witness in the second and final trial over the Oregon occupation.
The defense is expected to wrap up its witnesses this week before both sides dive into closing arguments.