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DOJ Plans To Retry Cliven Bundy's Case


Cliven Bundy's case will be considered for retrial tomorrow in a federal appeals court. The government's case against the Nevada rancher and some of his militia followers collapsed after a mistrial in 2017. Bundy and his men were accused of leading an armed standoff with federal agents over control of U.S. public lands in 2014. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: It's been more than two years now since Cliven Bundy left the federal courthouse in Las Vegas a free man.


CLIVEN BUNDY: We're not done with this. If the federal government comes after us again, we will definitely tell them the truth.

SIEGLER: And the Department of Justice is coming again against the now-74-year-old Bundy, his sons and another militia man, this after being widely criticized for bungling their initial case and after failing to get convictions in a separate, though related, armed standoff in Oregon in 2016. Larry Klayman is Cliven Bundy's attorney.

LARRY KLAYMAN: What's really ironic and, frankly, I think, disgusting is that the Trump Justice Department is the one that allowed the U.S. attorney in Nevada to take the appeal.

SIEGLER: After all, the president himself recently pardoned two Oregon ranchers whose fight against federal land managers helped inspire the Bundys in their battles over alleged federal overreach. The U.S. attorney's office in Nevada declined an interview request, but court filings indicate that prosecutors will argue that their missteps in the 2017 trial were inadvertent. And in particular, they say they were trying to balance disclosing Bureau of Land Management surveillance footage with protecting witnesses against violence. Bundy attorney Klayman, a conservative activist and once fixture in the so-called birther movement, says the government is being hypocritical. He says the Justice Department dropped its investigation against Michael Flynn but not the Bundys?

KLAYMAN: If you're one of the Washington elite and establishment in the nation's capital, you get special treatment. If you're Cliven Bundy and his sons and the peaceful protesters, basically you don't.

SIEGLER: Most of the federal agents who were there for the standoff back in 2014 say it was anything but a peaceful protest. Photos showed militia training their rifles on the armed BLM officers, who had come to roundup Cliven Bundy's cows. The rancher has refused to recognize the federal government's ownership of public land and consequently hasn't been paying grazing fees since the 1990s. Pat Shea headed the BLM during the Clinton administration. He says if the government fails again to bust the Bundys, the family will inspire more anarchy on public lands.

PATRICK SHEA: It's like the COVID-19 virus. They mutate as to their belief system so much that you can never tell what they're going to advocate. And they are a danger to themselves and a danger to everyone else they come in contact with.

SIEGLER: Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new life to the Bundys and their movement, which had been seen as starting to fade. Today, Cliven's son Ammon and the family's supporters are leading protests across the West against lockdown restrictions. One to reopen business in Washington state was recently streamed on Facebook by activist Kelli Stewart.


KELLI STEWART: Come on, guys. This is the American way - open rebellion to tyrannical lies. We're not slaves.

SIEGLER: A rebellious fight against tyranny or justice against a family that has defied the law for decades. A federal appeals court in San Francisco takes up the case via Zoom tomorrow. Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.