PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ammon Bundy told jurors Wednesday his experience during the 2014 Bunkerville, Nevada standoff led him to believe federal authorities would act aggressively toward occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge unless they were armed.
Bundy was called back to the witness stand after an emotional day of testimony Tuesday.
Before discussing “that whole gun thing” Bundy’s attorney Marcus Mumford asked him to explain how local law enforcement helped bring an end to the Bunkerville standoff.
Bundy said he reached out to state representatives and local authorities to protect his family and help “stop the federal government from doing what they were doing.”
While they didn’t hear back from everyone, the local sheriff agreed to help them.
“We’ll do whatever you tell us to do unless it’s to compromise this mission,” Bundy said in a video played for the jury.
The sheriff successfully negotiated with officials working for the Bureau of Land Management to retreat and return cattle belonging to the Bundy family.
Bundy said it was a significant experience for him and many others involved.
In November 2015, he met with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward to ask for similar support in standing behind Dwight and Steve Hammond, who were being sent back to prison for arson on federal land, a crime they already served time for.
The purpose of a county sheriff, Bundy said, is to protect the people from abuses at the hands of federal agencies.
Bundy said he arranged Sheriff Ward’s first meeting with the Hammonds and sent him information about their predicament when he returned home to Idaho after visiting Burns for the first time.
Until a meeting on November 19, Bundy said Sheriff Ward remained neutral when it came to the Hammonds. After that meeting, he said he knew the sheriff wasn’t going to offer the same kind of support he had received in Bunkerville.
If the sheriff wasn’t going to stand behind the Hammonds, maybe elected officials would rise to the occasion, Bundy thought. He and several others began drafting a redress of grievance that they sent to local and state representatives.
“We the People of the United States have reason to believe that Dwight and Steven Hammond were not afforded the rights to due process as protected by the law… We have principled evidence Dwight and Steven Hammond committed no crime.” – Redress of Grievance, December 11, 2015
To Bundy’s disappointment, he didn’t receive a single response.
Fellow occupier Ryan Payne went to the home of a county commissioner to find out why he hadn’t replied to the redress of grievance. He allegedly told Payne the “FBI directed [elected officials] not to respond to the petitions.”
Bundy said that information was reiterated by another elected official whom he met at the Malheur refuge, and again in a letter sent by Gov. Kate Brown on January 20.
“The FBI and other law enforcement entities… asked state officials, including me, to limit our comments [about the situation in Harney County] to which I have done with great difficulty,” Gov. Brown wrote.
Bundy’s testimony showed how the support from law enforcement in Bunkerville directly opposed the silence he received when asking for officials to stand behind the Hammonds.
As Mumford continued his questioning Wednesday, he asked Bundy how Bunkerville influenced his decision to call for occupiers to arm themselves at the Malheur refuge.
The BLM reacted aggressively, Bundy said, when he and other peaceful protesters demonstrated with signs outside his father’s Nevada ranch over 2 years ago.
“They physically beat us up,” Bundy testified.
Jurors saw a photo Tuesday of Bundy with a blood stained T-shirt that he said was taken after he was Tased by federal officials during the standoff.
He didn’t want that to happen again, and said he knew occupiers at Malheur would need to arm themselves in order to get respect from authorities.
That respect, he believed, would give them an opportunity to get their message out and let the world understand the motives behind the takeover.
If they had taken over the refuge without guns, Bundy explained, the feds would have come in, “zip-tied us up” and trucked everyone out without allowing them to expose the root of the issue.
“There was no way the FBI would give us our 1st amendment right unless we expressed our 2nd amendment right,” he said.
Months after the end of the 41-day standoff, occupiers still claim the focus of the refuge takeover was to support the Hammond family.
On Wednesday, Bundy said there were actually 3 main goals for the occupation:
- To bring media attention to the Hammonds’ situation.
- To highlight the issue of federal land control that affects the whole country.
- To use “adverse possession” as a method of transferring the land back to the people of Harney County who could then be free to utilize it as a resource.
Jurors watched a video Bundy recorded in his Emmett, Idaho home on January 1, just a day before a scheduled rally in Burns to support the Hammonds.
“I ask you now to come to Harney County and decide whether this is a righteous cause or not,” Bundy said in the video.
Bundy, who is among 7 defendants charged with conspiring to impede federal workers from doing their jobs through threats, intimidation or force, said he had made no formal plans to occupy the Malheur refuge on January 1.
Before the rally for the Hammonds the next day, Bundy said he met with people including his brother, Ryan, a sheriff’s deputy and other ranchers to propose the idea of taking over the refuge as a way to “take a hard stand” against the feds.
But the refuge occupation wasn’t the only idea Bundy had to take that “hard stand”.
He revealed there were also talks of taking cattle and putting them back on the Hammonds’ land without permission or doing prescribed burns, when it was time, also without permission.
Bundy said the group at the meeting was “about split” on whether they should occupy the refuge and “get the land back to the people.”
Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum were reportedly among those who supported the idea. After the meeting, people started gathering supplies and heading out to the refuge.
Bundy participated in the community’s rally for the Hammonds, after which he said he stood on top a snowbank and told anyone who wished to continue protesting to join him and others in occupying the refuge.
“We’re prepared to be out here as long as we need to be,” Bundy said later that night.
Ammon Bundy will continue testifying in federal court Thursday