LAS VEGAS (CN) — Six men accused of using long guns to intimidate Bureau of Land Management and other federal officers said Wednesday they were protesters, not criminals who could be sent to prison for 80 years – three years to the day after the armed standoff.
But during closing arguments Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson portrayed defendants Richard Lovelien, Todd Engel, Gregory Burleson, Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler and Steven Stewart as willing participants in a “range war” with the federal government.
Dickinson likened the defendants to gunmen who conspired to intimidate and possibly kill federal agents who were enforcing a federal court order to round up grazing cattle on April 12, 2014.
The men are accused of helping jailed rancher Cliven Bundy use threats of violence to intimidate and run off BLM officials and federal law enforcement during the 2014 standoff near his Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada.
Dickinson ran through a chronological analysis of the day’s events of April 12, 2014, and made a case that each man knowingly conspired to run off the BLM and federal officers at gunpoint.
He said the defendants helped to recruit and bring militia members from many Western states to stop the BLM from impounding up to 1,000 head of cattle that a federal court ordered rounded up for unlawfully grazing on federal land.
The government says Bundy owes $3 million for unpaid grazing fees for two decades.
Bundy and the men on trial claim the federal government does not have the right to own or control federal land, a common claim of so-called militia movements.
During the days leading up to the standoff on April 12, 2014, Dickinson said, Bundy and his supporters realized they did not have enough men to stop the BLM from rounding up Bundy’s cattle and impounding them.
“The Bundys realized they could not do it alone,” and called for armed supporters to come to Nevada, Dickinson said.
He said the six defendants helped recruit more militia members and organize armed resistance.
Dickinson said the men knowingly used unarmed men, women and children as human shields to stop the BLM and federal law enforcement from using gas to disperse the crowd, while several armed militia members moved in and among the unarmed protesters.
He said at least 20 men armed with military-style rifles, long guns and handguns “were on the bridges and in the crowd,” intimidating and threatening federal officials.
The federal officials “thought they were going to die,” released nearly 400 head of cattle and were “forced to leave the land, despite enforcing a lawful court order,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson showed photos and videos of each of the six defendants holding rifles, wearing camouflage clothing, and body armor in many cases, and taking up tactical positions to shoot and kill federal law enforcement officers if necessary.
The showdown occurred near an overpass that spans a dry wash running under Interstate 15, about 65 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Despite the BLM’s erecting a First Amendment protest area, Dickinson said, the six defendants chose to intimidate federal officers and stayed after the BLM packed up and left to prevent violence and deaths.
Dickinson’s closing arguments lasted well into the afternoon.
Drexler, Lovelien and Burleson were slated to give closing statements Thursday morning.
Attorneys representing Stewart and Parker gave their closing argument late Wednesday afternoon, as did Engel, who represents himself.
The six men are charged with 15 felony counts and face up to 80 years in prison if convicted.
They are among 17 defendants remaining in the case, and are the first group to be tried.
Cliven Bundy, his sons, and others are slated to go on trial 30 days after the conclusion of this trial.
A third trial of remaining defendants is to start 30 days after Cliven Bundy’s trial concludes.
This trial began in early February and is expected to conclude after a 15-person federal jury delivers verdicts on each defendant next week.