Thursday, October 06, 2016

Ammon Bundy testifies how Bunkerville shaped his views in Harney County

Just as the local sheriff intervened to protect his family's ranch and cattle at Bunkerville, Nevada, in 2014, Ammon Bundy said he wanted Harney County's sheriff to stand with the family of two Oregon ranchers facing longer prison time for lighting federal land on fire. Bundy described how local law enforcement's help brokering a deal in the Bunkerville standoff was "significant'' for him. It allowed Bundy's father to reclaim his cattle while federal U.S. Bureau of Land Management agents backed off the property, he said. "I was able to see rights restored,'' Bundy testified Wednesday, his second day on the witness stand in his federal conspiracy trial stemming from the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. "I was able to see our local government stand up for the people and restore their rights and protect them.'' That experience, as well as his faith, prompted him to do what he could to help the Hammonds, he said. The father and son ranchers were convicted in 2012 of arson and served short sentences before they were ordered to return to prison Jan. 4 to finish out five-year mandatory minimum terms. But when it became clear that Harney County officials, the county sheriff and state leaders had repeatedly "ignored'' his weeks of pressing them to halt the Hammonds' return to prison and "stand up against the abuses'' by investigating the case, Bundy said he received divine intervention to pursue another course of action. "It was so important that we do something, that we act rather than be acted upon all the time,'' Bundy said in a videotaped message from his Idaho home on Jan. 1. "I then began to feel and understand what we were supposed to do. I had a hard time at first because it was a very strong stand. ... I was to call all these people together and we were to create a defense for the people of Harney County so they could begin to use their lands and their resources again.'' Bundy testified that when he spoke of a "strong stand'' on that video, "I meant going into the refuge.'' He said he didn't share his plan with anyone until a meeting Jan. 2 with about 30 people in the back rooms of Ye Old Castle "I want to be clear,'' he said. "I proposed to them we go into the refuge and basically take possession of it and take these lands back to the people.'' Other steps were suggested, including holding prescribed burns in the county without government permits. About half of those present supported the refuge idea, Bundy said. He is one of seven defendants charged with conspiring to impede federal workers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from carrying out their work through intimidation, threats or force. He spoke calmly throughout his nearly four hours of testimony Wednesday, often looking directly at jurors. Bundy vigorously denied that he ever intended to prevent federal employees from doing their work at the federal bird sanctuary. He said he never issued any "threats'' or "ultimatums'' to the local sheriff, as Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward had testified at trial. Instead, Bundy said his plan was to stake claim to the refuge property through the adverse possession principle because he didn't believe the federal government had authority to control it, citing the enclave clause of the U.S. Constitution. If anything, he said he would have expected federal officials to cite occupiers for trespass or issue an eviction, and send the matter to a civil court to address who has control over the land. "This is the issue,'' he testified. "This is the reason why we went into the refuge and did what we did.''If the refuge occupiers hadn't been armed, Bundy said, they likely wouldn't have been taken seriously and garnered the widespread attention they received. Authorities would have "hauled us off'' in a paddy wagon and the protest would have been shut down quickly, he said. "This is so much bigger than even me or the defendants or the employees of the refuge or the BLM,'' he said, referring to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. "This is so much bigger than the refuge itself.'' Bundy said he believed, and still does believe, that what he and supporters did was "completely legal.''

 And the judge rules:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight jumped up, objecting to Bundy stating his view of the law. U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown instructed jurors that what they heard was Bundy's opinion of the law and not to regard it as factual. Bundy's lawyer, Marcus Mumford, wasn't pleased. "Your honor is not attempting to instruct the jury that Mr. Bundy's view of the law is in error?'' "Take a seat,'' the judge told Mumford. "The ruling stands.'' Gesturing to the table behind him where three prosecutors were seated, Mumford continued, "They don't tell us what the law is, that's my point.'' "Counsel, move on,'' the judge demanded. Nearly rising from the bench, Brown raised her voice and again demanded, "Move on!'' "Take a seat,'' the judge told Mumford. "The ruling stands.'' Gesturing to the table behind him where three prosecutors were seated, Mumford continued, "They don't tell us what the law is, that's my point.'' "Counsel, move on,'' the judge demanded. Nearly rising from the bench, Brown raised her voice and again demanded, "Move on!''

No Constitution, no Scripture

During Bundy's testimony, the judge also had to instruct Bundy not to read from the pocket Constitution in the left pocket of his jail shirt or to recite Scripture. Flipping through The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints with him on the stand, Bundy explained to jurors that among the church teachings is this: "It is our duty to go to the judge. It is our duty to go to the representative. It is our duty to go to the president and plead with them to stand up for what is wrong,'' he said. "It's our duty to give each of the officials the opportunity to do what's right." "We are not to act until that has been done,'' he added. Knight, the prosecutor, quickly stood and told the judge, "I'm objecting because I'm perplexed. This is not relevant.'' The judge agreed and warned Bundy not to read scriptural passages to jurors after Bundy's lawyer asked him to turn to a particular one.

The Enclave Clause

Legal scholars have said Bundy isn't only misinterpreting the Constitution's enclave clause but overlooking the Constitution's property clause, which says Congress has authority over federal land.
While Bundy argues that the federal government can't control land without a state's ceding it to the government under the enclave clause, legal experts say the clause actually protects federal land.

(I wrote my current view of the Enclave Clause in my June column and invited substantive comment.  So far none have been received)

1 comment:

Dave Pickel said...

The experts on the Constitution and public land law have Frank - The Bundys! Nevertheless, "In United States law, a "federal enclave" is a parcel of federal property within a state that is under the "Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States."[1] As of 1960, the latest comprehensive inquiry,[2] seven percent of federal property had enclave status, of which four percent (almost all in Alaska and Hawaii) was under "concurrent" state jurisdiction. The remaining three percent, on which some state laws do not apply, is scattered almost at random throughout the United States. In 1960, there were about 5,000 enclaves, with about one million people living on them.[3] These numbers would undoubtedly be lower today because many of these areas were military bases that have been closed and transferred out of federal ownership.
Since late 1950s, it has been an official federal policy that the states should have full concurrent jurisdiction on all federal enclaves,[4] an approach endorsed by legal experts.[5]” (Wikipedia, 2016)