In Las Vegas, on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, a federal jury refused to convict four militia gunmen in a 2014 standoff with federal agents near the Nevada ranch of, “States Rights” figure, Cliven Bundy.
The jury acquitted Ricky Lovelien and Steven Stewart of all 10 charges against them. These 10 charges included conspiracy, interstate travel in aid of extortion, weapon possession and assault and threatening a federal officer. The accusations carried a possibility of 100 years or more in federal prison.
This outcome was a stun to a courtroom full of the defendants’ supporters who, reportedly, broke into applause after Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro ordered Lovelien and Stewart freed immediately.
Defendants Eric Parker and Scott Drexler were also found not guilty of most charges against them; the decision of whether to free Drexler and Parker awaits a decision by prosecutors whether or not to try them for a third time.
The prosecutors claim the men conspired with Bundy family members and wielded weapons as a threat to federal agents who were enforcing “lawful court orders” to remove Bundy’s cattle from public land.
Ammon Bundy, the son of the Nevada standoff leader, ended up leading a similar standoff at Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon just two years after the Nevada Ranch standoff.
Ricky Lovelien, Steven Stewart, Scott Drexler, and Eric Parker were among 19 men arrested early in 2016, nearly two years after the Nevada Ranch standoff.
Despite pleas from attorneys and family members for the release of those who have not been brought to trial, all 19 men remain in federal custody.
The standoff was in response to a 20-year legal dispute in which the United States Bureau of Land Management had obtained court orders charging Bundy to pay more than $1 million in withheld grazing fees for Bundy’s use of federally owned land.
This dispute started in 1993, when Bundy declined to renew his permit for cattle grazing on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) administered lands near Bunkerville, Nevada.
The Bureau claimed that Bundy continued to graze his cattle despite not being legally permitted.
Bundy argued that federal grazing rules infringe on Nevada’s rights. During March and April 2014, BLM closed some areas of government lands during the planning for a roundup of Bundy’s cattle. Bundy also argued he grazed cattle on BLM land before the Bureau was created.
Frequently, over the years, calls for action have grown, with internet bloggers protesting federal agency decisions to designate protected areas for endangered, special, and set aside tracts for mining, wind farms, and natural gas exploration.
The prosecutors of the case characterize the standoff as an armed uprising by self-styled militia members who answered a call from the Bundy family to take up arms to prevent the lawful enforcement of multiple court orders to remove Bundy’s cattle from what is now the Gold Butte National Monument.
In response to this characterization, the attorneys of the defendants described the standoff as a protest of a peaceful nature by individuals that were upset about aggressive tactics used by federal land managers and contract cowboys.
The attorneys point to skirmishes involving armed federal agents using dogs and tasers against the Bundy Family.
The whole situation could have been a lot different if the state of Nevada had control over their own lands, considering Nevada officials were trying to negotiate on behalf of Bundy before and during the cattle round up.
While many libertarians and constitutionalists praise the Constitution, sometimes the Constitution has downfalls.
Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 states that, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”
Was the federal government right to pursue a case against the unlawful actions of the Bundys? Or did the Bundys have the right to take arms and protest in an attempt to alter or to abolish unjust laws, and to institute state ownership over federally owned lands?
* Logan Anderson is an Oregonian, political analyst, and advocate for individualism and free markets.