Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Ammon Bundy says he tried to resist father's push to rally around Oregon ranchers

Ammon Bundy carried a worn Bible to the witness stand Tuesday and portrayed himself as a weak underdog pitted against a powerful federal government that has tried to crush his family. Asked where he lived, Bundy said, "At the Multnomah County jail ... just across the street. I've been there eight and a half months.'' Bundy became emotional on the stand several times, his voice quivering as he described how "useless'' it seems fighting against federal authorities who have put his father, his brothers and him behind bars. Ammon Bundy told jurors that his family has grazed cattle at their ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada, since they homesteaded in the 1870s. But he didn't mention anything about his father owing the government more than $1 million in grazing fees. His father stopped paying after the Bureau of Land Management ordered him to restrict the periods when his herd roamed as part of an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise. Bundy said his family faced a "tremendous amount of abuse'' for trying "to protect these grazing rights that we own.'' The Bunkerville standoff, he said, "certainly affected'' his views about the federal land management agency. Since the 2014 confrontation, he said he was driven to find ways to protect his family's grazing rights and other ranchers' property rights, calling it their "life blood.'' "This is the dangerous point the federal government doesn't want anyone to know ... we do have rights to these lands,'' Bundy told jurors. "In my belief, there has been a strategic effort by the federal government in taking these rights.'' His voice choking with emotion, Bundy said it's been nearly impossible to challenge the federal government. "We can't do it against these people. They're too smart. They're too strong. We can't fight them. Now they're prosecuting us. ... My dad and brothers are all in jail right now, every single one of them. It's wrong,'' Bundy said, tears filling his eyes. Ammon Bundy testified that he initially resisted his father's push in the summer and fall of 2015 to get involved in the case of Harney County ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, he said. As a child, he noted, his father took his children "with him wherever he went.'' Bundy said he didn't know anything about the Hammonds' case, but his father kept bringing it up. The father-and-son ranchers were convicted in June 2012 of arson on federal land and resentenced last year to spend more time in prison. In October, he said his father asked him again what he knew about the Hammonds' sentencing. "He said, 'I'm afraid what's happening ...,'' Ammon Bundy said, pausing mid-sentence as he fought back tears, unable to get more words out. Struggling to compose himself, he continued, trying to complete what his father had told him: "He said, 'I'm afraid what's happening is the same thing that happened to us.''' "At that time I said I can't fight another battle. We're doing the best we can to keep our family from going to prison,'' Bundy testified, a pocket Constitution in the left front pocket of his blue jail scrubs. Ammon Bundy said he told his father that he couldn't get involved and that's what partly led him to move his family from Arizona to Emmett, Idaho, in fall 2015. Bundy told jurors he's a married man with six children. His wife, Lisa Bundy, sat in the public gallery. But less than a month later, Ammon Bundy said he had a change of heart. While in bed on the evening of Nov. 2, he said he picked up someone's message on his phone and clicked on a story about the re-sentencing of the Hammonds. He said he still tried to resist "this overwhelming feeling that it was my duty to get involved, and try to protect this family.'' "I had to suppress that feeling a little bit and say no, that was not my responsibility until I couldn't any longer,'' Bundy testified. Ammon Bundy said he then decided to travel to Oregon to meet with the Harney County ranchers to "understand who they were.'' Ammon Bundy said he met with Steven Hammond first. Steven Hammond gave him a ride in the back of his pickup to his ranch, about 30 miles away. Of his visit with Steven Hammond, Bundy said, "I began to understand he was pretty tired of fighting and he was pretty much broken emotionally. ... He was just going to take what was given.'' Bundy's lawyer, Marcus Mumford, asked his client how he responded to Steven Hammond's position. "I didn't understand until I spent 8 ½ months in prison, how he felt,'' Bundy said. As he remained on the witness stand, Bundy's attorney played for jurors clips of video from the 2014 standoff in Bunkerville. They captured a woman Ammon Bundy identified as his "Aunt Margaret'' getting thrown to the ground by a federal officer after she stood briefly in front of a government vehicle and then Ammon Bundy getting shot with a stun gun three times after he parked his four-wheeler in front of a government dump truck. Bundy said his goal was to find out what the dump truck was hauling away, as he and others suspected it was his father's dead cattle. "I truly believed they didn't have a right to be there, and my family had a right to be there,'' Bundy testified. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight earlier had objected to the videos being presented to jurors, arguing they only revealed a limited slice of what went on at Bunkerville...more

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