Nearly a year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the agency that manages 246 million acres and that is critical to the functioning of the American West still has no permanent leadership. In November, Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for Utah State Rep. Chris Stewart, R, became the third person in 11 months to temporarily take on the duties of Bureau of Land Management acting director. One potential pick for the director job is Karen Budd-Falen — a long-time antagonist of the bureau. In other administrations, her background would make her an unlikely pick. In the Trump administration, she’s a contender.
When the third in a series of trials over the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada gets underway, prosecutors will be able to use testimony from an expert in extremism and domestic terrorism, the judge in the case has ruled. Defense attorneys for one of the accused Bundy supporters, Ryan Payne, of Montana, had sought to keep much of the federal agent’s testimony out of the case, saying his expertise on militias and terrorism would prejudice the jury. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Jury selection for the trial—which includes Payne, Cliven Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan—begins next week. The men are facing a raft of charges related to the armed confrontation, near Bunkerville, Nevada, which prevented federal agents from confiscating cattle that had been illegally grazing on public land for decades.
As the nation reels from violent protests that left one person dead and 19 others injured in Charlottesville, Virginia, a trial of Cliven Bundy’s armed supporters in Nevada is raising thorny issues around the threat of violence and its relationship to free speech. Defendants in the first of three Bunkerville trials, which wrapped up this week, have described their actions as being protected by the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution. But prosecutors say the trial is about men who used the threat of violence to defy law enforcement, and that the law does not protect people who intimidate, threaten or assault others. During the six-week trial of Eric Parker, Scott Drexler, Steven Stewart and Ricky Lovelien, the prosecutors and defense team painted starkly different pictures of the events of April 12, 2014, when armed supporters of the recalcitrant rancher Cliven Bundy stopped the Bureau of Land Management from seizing cattle grazing illegally in southern Nevada. The defense characterized the Bunkerville standoff as a peaceful protest in which no one was hurt: Bundy supporters didn’t actually use the rifles they carried, but had them in case the BLM or National Park Service opened fire.
A rancher from New Mexico made headlines because of his involvement in the Oregon occupation of a federal wildlife facility by militia members who oppose federal ownership of lands. The Associated Press reported that he was the only rancher to renounce his federal grazing permit at an event held on Saturday. The man is Adrian Sewell, a rancher who is from Grant County in southwest New Mexico. The group occupying the Oregon facility is led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Cliven Bundy became a national figure after an armed stand-off with federal agents over their efforts to collect on fines for grazing on federal lands
A peaceful protest over the imprisonment of a father and son on arson charges on federal land led to Ammon Bundy and others taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early January.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich weighed in on the situation where “armed extremists” took over a federal bird sanctuary in rural Oregon earlier this month, saying that those responsible should be prosecuted. I find the latest Bundy land-grab scheme deeply disturbing. When you use armed intimidation to take over lands and property that belong to the American people, that’s not ‘taking back’ anything. It’s just stealing,” Heinrich said in a statement. Heinrich sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking her to prosecute those involved and tied them to the movement to give federal lands in the West to the states. “Unfortunately, the attack on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is only the latest effort in a growing campaign by anti-government interests to seize and sell off the American people’s public lands,” Heinrich wrote in the short letter.