PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Militia leader Ammon Bundy viewed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation as a “win-win-win” situation, he testified Thursday.
Bundy returned to the witness stand for a third day and told jurors he believed there were 3 possible outcomes of the refuge takeover that would help further his cause.
First, he explained, media attention generated by the occupation would give community members a national platform to address their concerns with the sentences of local ranchers convicted of arson on federal land. The media could then help highlight instances of federal government overreach, which Bundy said was the larger issue at hand.
It would also be an opportunity to get the land and its resources back to the people of Harney County, he said.
In the worst case, Bundy thought occupiers would be charged with trespassing and evicted from the refuge, which would allow them to fight the issue of land ownership in civil court.
The potential outcomes were all positive, Bundy testified.
“But of course, we know what they did,” he said. “[The federal government] used force against us and now we’re here.”
He was referring to the events that transpired on January 26 when he and several other occupiers were apprehended during a traffic stop along Hwy 395. The incident resulted in the death of Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, who was one of the designated spokespeople during the occupation.
Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, questioned him Thursday about that day.
“What did you understand they were stopping you for?” Mumford asked.
“I didn’t know,” Bundy responded. He said he didn’t ask because he was very much in fear for his life at the time. “I had red dots all over me. They began yelling at us to stick our hands out the window, and we did do that.”
He recalled exiting his car and getting onto his knees in the snow.
“They made us crawl backwards towards them, constantly threatening that they would open fire,” Bundy said, adding that he wasn’t armed at the time.
“When you were arrested, did they tell you what you were being arrested for?” Mumford asked his client.
“No,” Bundy said. “I asked them.”
He remembered laying on asphalt for several hours, handcuffed and on his back. He said he didn’t know where Finicum and the others were, but he “could tell there was something not right.”
Mumford asked if Bundy knew he was risking his life when he left the refuge that day.
“Of course I knew there was a risk,” he replied, explaining he felt there was a risk throughout the occupation. It was a risk he said he was willing to take in order to bring attention to land rights issues.
“Your friend is dead, you and your brother have been in prison for 8 1/2 months. Is it still worth it?” Mumford asked.
The prosecution objected to the question and Judge Anna J. Brown sustained it.
“Is it still worth it?” Mumford pushed, to which he received another sustained objection. “Absolutely,” Bundy replied against the court’s order.
Occupier Ken Medenbach’s attorney Matthew Schindler asked Bundy several questions about the other times he left the refuge before January 26.
Bundy explained he went into Burns regularly for haircuts, meals and meetings that were around the corner from FBI posts outside county buildings.
“Were you wearing a disguise?” Schindler asked him.
“No,” Bundy replied.
“Were you armed?” Schindler asked.
“No,” Bundy said.
Before January 26, he traveled outside the refuge without hesitance. He said he drove home to Emmett, Idaho on 3 separate occasions. Not once did the FBI or any law enforcement agency attempt to contact him or place him under arrest, he said.
On January 7, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward went to Malheur and offered to escort Bundy out of the county. Bundy said he refused the offer because nothing had been accomplished.
Authorities “continued to ignore” the issues Bundy said he and others presented them through direct communications and a redress of grievance.
The petition claimed Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond were not “afforded the rights to due process as protected by the law” when they were sentenced for arson on federal lands, a crime they already served time for.
Not one elected official responded to the redress of grievance, Bundy said.
“If they would have responded and done what they were elected to do, there would have been no reason for us to act, to take a hard stand at the refuge,” he explained.
When asked if he really believed Sheriff Ward could save the Hammonds from going to prison, Bundy said “yes.”
He told his supporters Sheriff Ward could have changed the Hammonds’ fate if he wanted to, and that a simple phone call could have made a difference.
Bundy felt local representatives weren’t willing to protect people’s rights, so he made it his mission to do their job for them by organizing a militia. He told the court it was his Constitutional right to do so.
“The whole purpose of us going into the refuge was to get a response,” he said. “I don’t think it ever stopped being about the Hammonds, but we understood there was a greater issue that caused what happened to the Hammonds.”
His lawyer asked if he went through records during his time at the refuge.
“Absolutely,” Bundy said. He looked for documents that showed any abuses against the Hammond family in addition to documented land boundaries and transactions he could potentially “unwind” to help get the land back to the people.
His exit plan, he testified, was to leave the refuge once he had taught Harney County citizens about their land rights and given them the necessary tools to assert those rights independently.
When asked if he anticipated running into federal wildlife refuge workers at the start of the occupation, Bundy said “no.”
“We knew it was the day after New Years,” he explained, adding that it was also a weekend and that federal employees don’t work on those days.
During the prosecution’s cross examination of Bundy, he was asked to confirm his previous testimony that he did not consider himself a leader of the occupation.
“I teach correct principles and let people govern themselves,” he replied.
“Did you testify it takes occupying 20 years to claim possession of federal land?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight asked.
“Yes, that’s the law,” Bundy said.
“So did you have intent to control Malheur until 2036?” Knight continued.
Bundy retorted it was the prosecution’s assumption he intended to stay at the refuge for 20 years. He asserted his belief that the property he adversely possessed was not federal land.
“Did you know federal officials referred to you as a terrorist before January 26?” Mumford asked earlier.
“Yes,” Bundy responded, explaining he learned the federal government classified him as a terrorist following the 2014 standoff at his family’s Bunkerville, Nevada ranch.
Bundy said he believed that categorization affected the way the FBI treated him.
“I understand I was categorized as something different,” he said. “That frustrated me.”
Bundy and 6 others are charged with conspiring to impeded federal employees from doing their work at the refuge through threats, intimidation or force.