Fourteen more people are facing federal charges in connection with a 2014 armed standoff between backers of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and law enforcement agents who sought to round up his cattle for illegally grazing on public land.
In a superseding indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada, the Justice Department charged Bundy and his supporters with a myriad of criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, assault on a federal officer, interference with interstate commerce by extortion and using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Bundy himself and four others had already been charged, though the Justice Department said 12 more people were arrested and two more — already in custody for the recent takeover of a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon — were slapped with fresh criminal counts.
The charges stem from an incident in Bunkverville, Nev., in April 2014 that served as a sort-of flash point for those opposed generally to government intervention and to federal management of western lands. When federal authorities moved in to seize Bundy’s cattle — claiming he had “trespassed” for 20 years in refusing to obtain the proper permits and pay the appropriate fees — the rancher rounded up hundreds of people, many of them armed, to his defense.
Prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Bundy began “flooding the internet with false and deceitful images and statements to the effect that law enforcement officers were abusing Bundy and stealing his cattle” to draw in helpers, who overwhelmed the feds.
“Outnumbered by more than 4:1, unwilling to risk harm to children and other unarmed bystanders who had accompanied the followers, and wishing to avoid the firefight that was sure to follow if they engaged the gunmen on the bridges and elsewhere who posed such an obvious threat to their lives, the officers had no choice and were forced to leave and abandon the cattle to Bundy and his co-conspirators, who promptly released and returned the cattle to Bundy,” prosecutors alleged in the indictment.
In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: “Today’s actions make clear that we will not tolerate the use of threats or force against federal agents who are doing their jobs. We will continue to protect public land on behalf of the American people, uphold federal law, and ensure that those who employ violence to express their grievances with the government will be apprehended and held accountable for their crimes.”
The charges come nearly a month after Bundy was arrested upon arriving in Portland, Ore., where his son, Ammon Bundy, was being held for leading the more recent armed standoff with federal agents. That takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon, which lasted for five weeks until last month, ended with more than two dozen people, including Ammon Bundy, charged with using “force, threats and intimidation” to stop federal officials from performing their duties.
Some of those charged with the Oregon standoff appeared in a federal courtroom last week and pleaded not guilty. Federal prosecutors said that more charges and defendants could soon be added to a superseding indictment there, and with several people facing charges in both cases, it highlighted how the Bundy family found itself at the center of two sprawling court cases hundreds of miles apart.
The initial complaint against Bundy noted that officers responding to his ranch in 2014 faced a threat from armed people on bridges who “took sniper positions behind concrete barriers, their assault rifles aimed directly at the officers below.”
Even as his son was behind bars for the Oregon standoff, a defiant Bundy had insisted earlier this year that the government has “no policing power” over his ranch. Prosecutors alleged Bundy continues to keep his cattle on public land in Nevada “as of the date of this Superseding Indictment.”
One of the people indicted in both the Oregon and Nevada cases — Peter Santilli, who hosts a right-wing YouTube show — has argued he was at both standoffs as a journalist, while prosecutors described him as an active participant. A judge in Oregon granted Santilli a conditional release on Monday, but his attorney said it was likely he would just wind up taken to Nevada to see his detention hearings start over.
Those charged could face heavy penalties. Assault on a federal officer, for example, carries a 20-year maximum penalty, as does interference with interstate commerce by extortion.
The Justice Department identified those newly charged as Melvin D. Bundy, 41, of Round Mountain, Nev.; David H. Bundy, 39, of Delta, Utah; Brian D. Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville; Blaine Cooper, 36, of Humboldt, Ariz.; Gerald A. DeLemus, 61, of Rochester, N.H.; Eric J. Parker, 32, of Hailey, Idaho; O. Scott Drexler, 44, of Challis, Idaho; Richard R. Lovelien, 52, of Westville, Okla.; Steven A. Stewart, 36, of Hailey; Todd C. Engel, 48, of Boundary County, Idaho; Gregory P. Burleson, 52, of Phoenix; Joseph D. O’Shaughnessy, 43, of Cottonwood, Ariz.; and Micah L. McGuire, 31, and Jason D. Woods, 30, both of Chandler, Ariz. Those already charged were Cliven Bundy, 69, of Bunkerville; Ryan C. Bundy, 43, of Mesquite, Nev.; Ammon E. Bundy, 40, of Emmet, Idaho; Ryan W. Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont.; and Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati.