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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Bundy Calls Refuge Takeover His Civic Duty

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — A theme developed during day two of Ammon Bundy's testimony: He didn't dispute the facts of the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but instead seemed to be asking the jury to see that his love of justice compelled him to launch the occupation that left dozens in jail and one man dead.

Bundy on Wednesday agreed with the substance of the government's assertions that he planned and carried out the January occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. But he claimed his actions were justified because he was battling the government's malicious and illegal actions.

He painted himself as a reluctant activist whose concerns were ignored by elected representatives, leaving him with no choice but to lead the 41-day armed standoff between self-styled "patriots" and the FBI.

And the charges — that he and his co-defendants conspired to use force, intimidation or threats to keep federal employees from doing their jobs — were just incidental side effects, overshadowed by the greatness of his vision.

"This is so much bigger than employees of the refuge or BLM employees," Bundy told the jury. "This is an issue that has caused so many people over the decades to lose their homes and their livelihoods. This is so much bigger than the refuge."

Bundy said the 2014 standoff at his father Cliven Bundy's Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch taught him lessons that he brought to the refuge near Burns, Oregon.

A federal court in Nevada had ordered the Bureau of Land Management to seize the elder Bundy's cattle after he refused to pay over $1 million in fees for grazing on public land. Hundreds of people showed up to face off with the feds, who eventually backed down and released the cattle they had rounded up. Ammon Bundy has called that standoff "a great victory."

In Wednesday's testimony, Bundy acknowledged that a federal court order existed directing the BLM to take his father's cattle. But the court order was unfair, he said.

"I'm not disputing the fact that there was a federal court order," Bundy told the jury. "But to remove us from 130 years of ranching there just because they say so is wrong."

Similarly, Bundy conceded the basic facts of the arson case against the Hammonds, a Burns-area father and son whose mandatory minimum sentences Bundy says propelled him to launch the January occupation of the refuge.

A federal jury in Pendleton, Oregon, found Dwight and his son Steven Hammond guilty of arson. Both men reported to prison to serve the balance of their mandatory minimum sentences on Jan. 4, two days after Bundy led the takeover of the refuge.

But neither the jury verdict nor the federal judge's sentence are valid in Bundy's eyes, according to testimony. So he asked local and state representatives to form an "evidential hearing board" to investigate whether the Hammonds were treated unfairly by the government.

"I got no response," he said. "None."

Next, he appealed to Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward to temporarily shield the Hammonds from prison.

"I wasn't asking him to do anything crazy," Bundy told the jury. "I just wanted him to tell the government to hold off a bit. To say, 'I'm sheriff and I'm telling you to hold off until we get to the bottom of these things."

No dice.

So 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.

His hand was forced, he said. The refuge takeover had to happen. And it had to involve guns.

He told the jury that the Bunkerville standoff taught him that the only reliable way to exercise his First Amendment rights is to use his Second Amendment rights.

"Without guns, they would have come out in a paddy wagon and put us in zip-tie handcuffs," Bundy said. "We would never have been able to tell people why we were there. We never would have been able to communicate this problem that affects the whole western half of the United States."

The government's case against him is irrelevant when compared to the real issue, Bundy told the jury.

"Basically they just got us to argue whether we impeded federal workers from doing their duty, when the whole argument should be whether they had a right to own the land in the first place," Bundy said.

Bundy's testimony will stretch into a third day Thursday, with more questions from his lawyer Marcus Mumford, questions from his co-defendants' lawyers and cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight.

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