Ryan Bundy arrived at the courthouse on Wednesday November 15, 2017 prepared to give his opening statement. Friends and supporters gathered with Ryan in a prayer circle, as they did every day before trial, to offer a prayer of thanksgiving and to ask for God’s help and direction.
When everyone was seated and the jury was seated and instructed, Judge Navarro asked Ryan if he was ready to give his opening. Ryan walked over to the jury, but before he could get the first word out, Steven Myhre asked the judge to counsel Ryan not to use the Constitution and his personal interpretation when presenting his opening statement.
Here is what he said: Thank you very much for being here. I told you a little about myself at Voir Dire, but I’d like to introduce myself a little more and tell you about my heritage and how that affects my case. (he projects a photo of his family for all to see and leaves it up throughout his statement) “This is my ID! Not my driver’s license, this is who I am, a man with a family, and I will do whatever it takes to provide for them. I want you to picture in your minds…you’re out on the land…I’ll take you to our ranch, you can see all the beauty of the land, the fresh air, the sunsets, the sunrises, the brush, you are on a horse in front of the cattle−place yourself there−feel the freedom−out of the congestion of the cars−that’s how I was raised, playing in the river, we were called river-rats, and that is where my life began, and I hope ends.
My family has been on that land for 141 years, my pioneer ancestors settled there in 1877 – there was nothing there. They carved out a living…they brought a horse and wagon and some provisions…this case the government is ‘not about rights’, but it is−those rights do mean something−rights are created through beneficial use.
“When my ancestors arrived, undoubtedly the horse would need a drink, so they lead them to the water, and that is beneficial use. The horse and perhaps a cow that had been lead behind the wagon needed to eat some brush in the hills, that is beneficial use. That established rights. The water rights are real! So real, the state of Nevada has a water rights registry including watering rights, including livestock watering rights. A law was created to protect those rights. The water rights that my father owns were first registered in 1891 by the state of Nevada−the state of Nevada is important, a sovereign state, it’s own unit which entered the union in (1864). It entered equal to the original states, it is its own entity and state laws are important.
“My family and I are charged with some grievous things and they are not true, and evidence will show that they are not; force, manipulation, extortion, violent−my family is not a violent family and I am not a violent man. For 20+ years we turned to our local law enforcement. Rights are real property. The fact is we create government to protect rights.
“To have rights you must claim, use and defend. There is a difference between rights and privileges. Rights you own. Privilege is afforded. Like renting or owning a house. Government asserts there are no rights, only privileges, and unless we pay we can’t be there. The state of Nevada says differently. These are my father’s rights. Everything we have comes from the land. That is wealth, not the dollar bill. Who controls the land controls the wealth.
“We create government to serve us. These are some of the beliefs of my family. That we have said, we will do whatever it takes to defend is not a threat, it is a statement. Being right here before you today is part of doing whatever it takes−the Founding Fathers pledged whatever it would take−their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor to defend rights. With the evidence you will see, that is what we are doing; there was no conspiracy to impede, to harm…but, to protect our heritage that our pioneer ancestors established.
“We are attacked, surrounded by what appeared to be mercenaries, snipers pointed directly at me. You will hear a report from a sniper that he was keeping watch of me in my van with my wife and two of my daughters with me.
“At our ranch−children are always welcome−it is a place to play, play in the river, the pond, chase or hunt rabbits, burn your toes in the hot sand in the summer−always free.
“Never before did we feel like someone was watching. In early spring of 2014 we felt that someone was always watching…the dogs were watching the hills, when you are always with a dog you get to know what they are saying with their bark…you can tell by their bark what they are seeing…surveillance cameras on the hill, the dog looking at another and growling (tears flowing) …this is not what America is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a land of liberty. The Founding Fathers fought and bled so we wouldn’t have to and now we find ourselves in a similar situation.
“They say this issue is over grazing fees, it’s terrible, terrible, he must be a freeloader−it’s only rhetoric−I’ll tell you why−you don’t pay rent when you own your home! We own those rights! Not the land, I know we don’t own the land. We own water and grazing rights. We don’t pay rent for something we own.
“The BLM was formed in 1960. Our rights were established in 1877, long before the BLM.. The original states own 100% of their land and all states were to come in on equal footing. The crux of the issue is, are rights to free speech taken? First Amendment was put into the Supreme Law of the land, the Constitution.−they shall make no law restricting these things…as you saw in the video yesterday, my brother was not impeding, not blocking, he was on the state road, on its right-of-way, simply to take pictures with his ipad of them stealing our cattle−they attacked him, threw him to the ground.”
With quivering lips, he continued, “The American people saw this and came not to impede or do harm. They came because they felt the Spirit of the Lord, spirit of freedom, and felt ‘We the People are not going to put up with that behavior.’ It was not pointed out there were snipers on the hill, I witnessed that through binoculars and the evidence will show this.’”
“Back to Richfield, Utah, evidence and witness testimony will show there was not a ruckus there that disrupted or shut down the auction. I called the sheriff−that’s the pattern−the local LE and state brand inspectors in Nevada, Utah and Arizona and I had contact with the highway patrol, county commissioners in several counties and state officials−not all face-to-face, but some through phone calls. Is this what a criminal does? No! We were protecting life, liberty and property.
“You saw the video of them hip-chucking my Aunt Margaret, 50+ years of age and just finished with cancer treatment, the mother of 11 children.
“They call them BLM guys Law Enforcement, but they are not, they are just BLM employees. All authority comes from We the People, we delegate authority to the county sheriff who we elect and who hires deputies, and then we have a sheriff’s department to protect our life, liberty, our property.
“Choosing for yourself is freedom and we have no right to impede or harm others. That’s God’s law. Man-made law is to follow that. Man is supposed to be free, not controlled, serfs or slaves. Government is to be our servant. The government went in and shut-down 600,000 acres−not one of us went into their enclosed area and never impeded them.
“Even my brother driving into the dump truck…isn’t that impediment? The court order did not allow the destruction of water infrastructure. What was a dump truck doing out there? Since that was beyond the scope of the so-called court order, we had a right to know. They could have stopped and answered our questions, but no, they sent out attack dogs and tasers and threw Aunt Margaret to the ground.
“Every incident they are charging us with happened on property owned by the state of Nevada. Even if BLM had authority to close-off public land, they have no authority to close state of Nevada public land−the fence on the state of Nevada land.
“Except by invitation you will not see one of us breach that fence or impede the gather. We did not violate the court order. Davy went over the fence by the invitation of Dan Love and the sheriff took over and asked for our help to take down the fence. And then the cowboys, led by sheriff squad cars went to release the cattle. The sheriff honored his oath and did his job.
He should have done it sooner.
“I love my family, I love them. I love this land. I love freedom.. I came from the state of Nevada. I am a true Nevadan. I mentioned before that Nevada became a state on October 31st and we always get out of school on that day…I always thought we got out because it was my birthday.
“I am a true Nevadan, I believe you are, too and love freedom as much as I do. Freedom’s not being lost overseas−it’s lost right here at home in our back yards−our front yards. Until we are willing to do whatever it takes, liberty will be, is being lost.
“We are not anti-government! Government has its proper place and duties to perform. I want government to do its job. Nothing more. Nothing less. When government does more or less than its job, it becomes the criminal. When someone harms or damages another’s rights, liberty or property that is the definition of a criminal. Extortion, violence, pointing guns−everything we are charged with they were doing and thousands came running−the world knew about this−China, Ireland (they sent us a flag), New Zealand and other countries−why? Because America stood for freedom and has for years and the world is interested in seeing how America will deal with freedom. The world wants to know. The American people said, ‘yes we will stand for freedom. Government you’ve gone too far and we will put a stop to it.’”
“The courts have a place. It is said that We the People are the fourth branch of government. I say we are the first. The legislature to make laws, the executive to execute laws and the judicial to judge− all three branches is to protect our rights, our rights, freedom, liberty. Government does not have a right in and of itself−man creates government to fulfill and protect rights.
“Evidence will show my father and brothers are innocent men. We need you to put on to that paper that we are not guilty. You are the twelve to represent us, peers, equals, people…We the People.
“Guns…lots of guns…scary…camo…freedom of speech…also the right to bear arms, the second amendment…a militia was necessary.
“What is a militia? It is defined in law. U.S. Code defines militia: All able-bodied men 17-45 years of age. How many of you are a member of the militia?
”The state of Nevada extended that and includes men up to the age of 64. How many of you are a member of the Nevada militia? There is the organized militia, the National Guard and the unorganized militia−everyone else.
“Why did the Founding Fathers include the Second Amendment? Was it for duck hunting? No…no! The militia is mentioned 6 times in the Constitution. Such a small document and few things are mentioned more than the militia; the central government of this union and yet media or whatever wants to put a bad face on militia.
“Why did militia come to Bundy ranch? To peacefully assemble, redress of grievances. No one was harmed…except Davy, Ammon and Aunt Margaret. You will not see in evidence that we ever harmed anyone! They attack and we turned the other cheek. We were peaceful−insistent? Yes! And yes! Demanding. These men, these people did not come to seek an opportunity to point guns at government.
“Hundreds, even thousands of people we didn’t know. That’s exemplary. These people came to do good, to protect me, to save my life. I had a sniper pointed at me, 200 armed men surrounding my home, my family (Very emotional with tears) Ryan Payne has been portrayed as a bad man. Evidence will show otherwise. He saved my life. He saved my life. Others came. I didn’t even meet most of them until I was in jail with them, may have seen them in passing, but I didn’t know them until jail. I honor and thank them now! I thank all who came.
“We only have rights we are willing to fight for. You will see evidence that I was nearly always with the sheriff or a deputy.−always in communication with them−I was side-by-side with Lombardo.
“Thank you for coming, for being here. I will still do whatever it takes. This is not a threat, it is a determination. I love my freedom. I listen to the still, small voice to discern between truth and error.
“The indictment and grand jury testimony is full of lies. Truth has been blocked in previous trials. The truth will set me free and I am counting on you to help me see that.
“I invite you to our ranch. I recognize your right to use the land. We want you to come out and enjoy it. I thank you for this time. Please find me not guilty and those other men not guilty. Stand up for freedom. Thank you.”
The jury hung onto every word Ryan said. It was a spirit filled and professional presentation. He had spoken from the heart. At times tears obstructed his vision, his mouth quivered and his voice broke as he spoke of his family and love of country.
During break, people, including me, offered praise for his presentation. Although he appreciates the kind remarks, he does not like to be praised. It bothers him. He does not want to take credit for something God had His hand in.
Nov. 15-16, 2017
The First Witness, Mary Rugwell
The first witness to be called was Mary Rugwell, former BLM Director for Southern Nevada. She talked about how patient she and the agency had been with Cliven Bundy.
Rugwell talked about the 1976 Federal Land Policy Act of 1976, a bill passed by congress to spell out management policies and procedures for the BLM. She talked about the Desert Tortoise being placed on the Federal Endangered Species List in 1990. However, she did not tell the jury the endangered status is the primary reason 52 ranchers in the Gold Butte region went out of Business.
It has been proven that cattle do not harm the Desert Tortoise, instead they eat the dung that provides nutrients and moister they need to survive the harsh desert climate.
The Center for Biological Diversity is the engine behind the tortoise’s endangered status. Joined by other environmental groups, they are the main culprits behind land grabs in the 11 western states. During testimony Rugwell admitted she decided to impound the cattle after she talked to The Center for Biological Diversity.
Rugwell also failed to mention how the ranchers were run out of business. As soon as the tortoise was placed on the endangered list, the BLM began an active campaign to get all cattle off of public lands in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The slogan “No Moo by ’92 and Cattle Free by ‘93” had been, and is, a real goal.
The BLM began their campaign by decreasing cattle per water right from 1,200 to eventually 89 cows. If a rancher ran a herd of 3,000 cows and had10 water rights, it meant the rancher could only range 890 cows on public land. The other 2,010 cows would have to be ranged somewhere else or be sold. Most ranchers, who had been grazing on public lands for 100 years or more, had nowhere else to graze their cattle. They had no other choice but to sell and settle for a smaller herd size in the future, or go out of business.
At first the ranchers fought the BLM with law suits, but received no help from the courts, just like with Cliven Bundy. The BLM fought back with a campaign of harassment, a topic I have covered in an earlier chapter. They cancelled grazing permits, took water rights, fenced off water and closed roads, including private and county roads−all unlawfully. The federal courts, without exception, backed up the BLM. This would ensure ranchers could not make a living without public land at their disposal.
Out of the 53 ranchers, Cliven Bundy was the only one who chose to stay and fight for his rights. He refused to “let the BLM manage him out of business.” If the other 52 ranchers had stood with him from the beginning, the problem would have been resolved and the ranches would still be thriving.
Some ranchers declared bankruptcy and sold out to the BLM for pennies on the dollar. Others chose not to fight, choosing instead to keep what land they could so they would have something to pass on to the next generation.
Once a rancher removed his cattle off of public land the water rights automatically reverted to the state of Nevada. The BLM would then apply for and be granted those rights. Some of the ranchers sold their rights directly to the BLM for a handsome sum, which amounted to a legal bribe. That is how they have been able to sow up water rights and stop public land grazing, not only on Gold Butte, but everywhere else in the west.
Next, Rugwell talked about petroglyphs that are found on rock facings on the former Bunkerville Allotment. She said a study was done by a BLM archeologist that determined cows had caused damage by rubbing against rocks the petroglyphs are on. He has never witnessed a cow rubbing against petroglyphs, but somehow determined they are the culprit because he saw cows in the vicinity.
Ammon’s attorney, Morgan Philpot, asked if damage had been done to petroglyphs by Bundy cattle. She could not answer. Philpot then pointed out that sandblasting had been carried out by the BLM.
Payne’s attorney, Brenda Weksler made sure the jury knew that Ryan Payne’s name was not mentioned and was not on any document involving water and grazing rights prior to the stand-down.
The prosecution admitted Payne’s name was not in any documents concerning Cliven Bundy, but did insist that Ammon and Ryan Bundys names were mentioned. The defense proved otherwise.
The prosecution then presented a threat assessment document written by the BLM that rated Cliven Bundy a “Moderate” risk. Rugwell was asked if she agreed with the assessment, but testified that she thought Bundy was not a threat.
Rugwell then said the government offered Cliven Bundy what she considered a “fair deal.” They offered to roundup, transport and sell the cattle at their own expense, and then give Bundy all of the proceeds from the sale. This might seem reasonable to some people, but to Cliven Bundy it meant the end of ranching. If the cattle were removed he would then, by Nevada law, forfeit his 11 water rights. Since his 160 acres of private land would not support enough cattle for him to make a living, he would essentially be out of business, just like the other 52 ranchers.
Beware when the government tells you it is your benevolent protector.
Rugwell testified that damage to public lands by Bundy cattle was put at $272,000, with fees, not the $1,000,000 as claimed. By damage I guess she means the amount of sagebrush eaten by each cow.
The first impoundment was scheduled for 2012. County Commissioner Tom Collins told Rugwell, “If you do an impoundment, you will fail. Eventually the impoundment was called off.
To show her willingness to cooperate, Rugwell said she offered Cliven Bundy a Summer Grazing Permit. What she failed to mention, the permit was limited to 50 cows and was in an area where there was no water or feed. It is funny how such important facts are left out.
When asked by Cliven’s attorney, Brent Whipple, who owned the water, Rugwell admitted that the state of Nevada did. She also recognized those rights are granted by the state. She admitted, under oath, that Bundy owned water rights on the Bunkerville Allotment, Mormon Mountain, Mormon Mesa, and the Gold Butte area. She also recognized the deeds that showed Bundy’s ownership. Whipple put up a photo that confirmed the rights were real property and taxed just like real property.
The prosecution objected every time water rights were mentioned. They did not want the jury to know anything about water rights, or should I say, Bundy water rights.
Nov. 21-23, 2017
A Sneaky Motion on a Sunday Evening
On the following Sunday the prosecution filed a motion at 6 pm asking Judge Navarro to disallow any mention of water rights, arguing Jury Nullification. In other words, the jury might feel empathy for the Bundys and acquit.
Before the jury was brought in, and after several hours of argument for and against, Navarro ruled that the words “Water Rights” could not be mentioned. The words, “Range Improvements” and “Range Law” could only be used in questioning witnesses.
This did not stop the defense, during cross examination, they masterfully manipulated ways to get water rights mentioned without actually using the words−they would say things like, “pipes used to transport water,” and other phrases to get their point across. They pointed out that Ammon blocked a dump truck pulling a backhoe that was loaded with water pipes the BLM had dug up. It was also pointed out the pipes were private property and taking out infrastructure was not in any of the court orders.
The prosecution objected, saying the defense was using a “back door” approach at Jury Nullification. They asked the court to prevent the defense from presenting anything that would be “Self Serving.” They did not want anything presented to the jury that would make Cliven Bundy look good in the eyes of the jury.
Terry Petrie, a DOJ lawyer in the Environment and Natural Resource Division was the second witness to take the stand. He handled the Bundy case starting in 2012 until the present. Petrie had interviewed Cliven to get his point of view about grazing rights, water rights and other range matters. He also attempted to persuade Cliven to remove his cattle, and after that failed, questioned what his reaction would be if the government instigated an impoundment.
The deposition was presented by the prosecution, but had not been admitted as discovery for the defense. During a hearing Navarro ruled that it be made available, but allowed the prosecution to redact anything they considered sensitive. The defense said they would be forced to put Cliven on the stand to testify if the material was redacted.
Ryan Payne’s attorney, Ryan Norwood, asked the court for the deposition without the redacted material arguing that it was a violation of the Fifth Amendment to exclude part of a testimony. He wanted the jury to hear the redacted material so they would not be prejudiced toward his client. “The jury should hear a fair argument,” he told the judge.
“The court does not agree the jury needs to hear a fair argument,” Navarro answered. In the end she told the prosecution to give the defense another copy of the deposition, but some things could still be redacted to protect certain people and private information.
During the deposition it was revealed that Petrie had asked what Cliven would do if they tried to impound his cattle, and he replied, “I will do whatever it takes.” Petrie then asked if that meant physical harm. Cliven replied, “I will never tell what it means. I’m not fighting the government.” He then qualified his statement by saying “it depended on how far the government would push him and his neighbors.”
Cliven also told Petrie that he expected the sheriff, who had the authority, to intervene and protect him, but said, “I don’t expect the sheriff to do it all. I have to do something myself.”
Petrie once again asked Cliven if he would try and stop him from impounding his cattle. Cliven answered again, “I will do whatever it takes.” Cliven also told Petrie that he would file a criminal complaint if the BLM took action.
The prosecution tried to convince the jury that “I will do whatever it takes” was a threat. Whipple, on cross, asked Petrie, “Where did you find the concern” that his client meant harm? Petrie avoided the question by saying Mr. Bundy ignored court orders to vacate, and he made a remark saying, “I have to take that same front seat and stand up for my rights,” referring to Rosa Parks’ protest against segregation.
Whipple asked Petrie if he personally felt threatened by Cliven Bundy. He said he did not. He was then asked if Mr. Bundy had been confrontational during the meeting. “Mr. Bundy was not confrontational,” he answered.
Whipple then made the point, “Cliven Bundy has been doing “whatever it takes for 25 years.”
Next the prosecution brought up a Threat Assessment prepared by the BLM prior to 2012. A threat assessment is a written report done as a precaution for law enforcement to evaluate if a person or persons pose any danger during an attempted arrest, and if so to what extent. It is standard operating procedure for law enforcement before an operation is commenced.
The original BLM threat assessment for Cliven Bundy was completed prior to Petrie being assigned to the case and was rated as “Moderate,” but Petrie, after being assigned to the case, had upgraded it to a “High.”.
The prosecution read several statements from the threat assessment where people suggested Bundy was dangerous. One person even said he feared getting shot.
Brent Whipple objected saying they had not received a copy of the assessment. Once again more evidence had been withheld from the defense. Navarro, sounding surprised, asked Myhre, “A threat assessment was not prepared for the court?” Then she asked, “Were negative comments used from that assessment?” Myhre said yes to both.
Navarro ordered the prosecution to give the defense a copy saying they had a right to know what it said. This turned out to be a gift. The assessment did have some negative remarks, but it also had some very positive things people had said about Cliven. A National Park Service ranger, sheriff deputies and others stated that Cliven Bundy was not dangerous and never felt threatened by him. Some even remarked that they liked and respected him. One NPS agent said, “Mr. Bundy talks big, but I don’t think he will shoot anybody.” It was clear the prosecution wanted the jury to see Cliven Bundy as a dangerous man that would do “whatever it takes” to keep his cattle from being impounded.
During a hearing Judge Navarro would discover, once again, that the government had not turned over a piece of evidence to the defense, in this case, Ryan Bundy, who was acting as his own attorney.
While reviewing some discovery material Ryan found a mention of an FBI threat assessment. In April of 2017 he asked the prosecution to turn over this threat assessment so he could review it. The prosecution never responded.
Ryan stood and told Navarro he had requested the information last April, a full 8 months before the trial. “They mocked me” he said. “They just mocked me.” Navarro asked Myhre if he knew anything about an FBI threat assessment. They denied one existed, but said they would investigate.
Later the prosecution said they had found the FBI threat assessment, but had nothing of value the defense could use. The judge disagreed and ordered Myhre to turn over any information the prosecution had to the defense.
This turned out to be another gift. The 15 page threat assessment rated Cliven Bundy as a “Low” threat, just the opposite of the BLM assessment.
The prosecution should have been reprimanded by the court, but Navarro chose to ignore this blatant attempt, like the previous attempts, to hide important evidence that would go a long way in proving Cliven Bundy’s innocence.
The jury would go home with a more positive view of Cliven Bundy, not just because of the “Low” rating the FBI assessment had revealed, but because the prosecution had lied in an attempt to make him look bad in their eyes. I think they were beginning to see a pattern.
Navarro asked Mr. Petrie from the bench if he had information on the good comments that was omitted. He replied, “I did not.” Later he corrected himself saying he did see documents with positive remarks.
Ammon’s attorney, Dan Hill, asked Petrie if he had at any time been in contact with the prosecution. Petrie admitted he had met in person with Dan Schiess on 2 occasions. He was asked if there had been other times he had met with the prosecution. He said he had a conference call with Nadia Ahmed, a member of the prosecution team, along with the FBI. The defense argued this was an attempt to entrap, but Navarro did not agree.
Dan Hill, one of Ammon’s attorneys, argued that Petrie was biased when judging the Bundys as “threatening” when in pretrial he stated that he was not. During cross examination he also admitted that he did not feel personally threatened.
In another attempt to convince the jury that Cliven Bundy was a dangerous man, Dan Schiess said that High Country News had quoted Bundy saying he would” get physical” if the BLM attempted to take his cattle. Immediately Bret Whipple produced a copy of the article and asked Petrie to read where it said Cliven would” get physical.” He could not because it was not there.
Another gift had been given to the defense.
The prosecution once again tried to paint Cliven Bundy as uncooperative and unreasonable. He asked Petrie if the National Park Service had called Cliven to ask him to remove cattle that had wandered onto NPS land. He said yes, but Mr. Bundy had only removed some of the cows. Addressing the judge, Schiess charged that Bundy “only made a marginal effort to get the cattle off of NPS land” because all of the cows had not been removed.
Whipple objected pointing out that the exchange had been pleasant between the NPS agent and Mr. Bundy. He said Mr. Bundy had rounded up 150 cows the first time and another 30 head the second time. Cliven then told the NPS agent that he “got all that he could find.” It was even pointed out that Cliven was given keys to the gate. It seemed that all efforts to indict Clive Bundy as an uncooperative scalawag had not worked.
Petrie was asked by Whipple if a criminal charge had ever been litigated against Cliven Bundy, and did criminal charges ever come up during meetings and discussions. Petrie said that none were litigated, nor discussed. Whipple then asked if the matter of grazing fees was criminal or civil. Petrie replied, “It is civil.”
Another document that had not been turned over to the defense was an email sent by Dan Love to Mr. Petrie, who in turn had sent it to the prosecution. Again, the prosecution denied knowing anything about it. A motion was filed by the defense asking the court to compel the government to turn it over. In the email, Love, during an anti-terrorism meeting, was very critical of the BLM. He made the remark that the BLM had failed for many years to do their job by not enforcing court orders to get Bundy cattle off of public land.
This could be important information explaining why Love ignored orders to stop the operation the day before the stand-down occurred.