Cliven Bundy and Sons Face Federal Indictment, But Not for the Crimes You’re Thinking Of

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Cliven Bundy Arrested in Oregon
Bundy's mugshot.Photo: Handout/2016 Multnomah County Sheriff's Office

On Wednesday, Ammon and Ryan Bundy were indicted by a federal grand jury along with their father, Cliven Bundy, and two other anti-government militants, Ryan Payne and Peter Santilli. Among other crimes, the group was charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, assault on a federal officer, obstruction, and extortion. Sounds serious.

Perhaps you are thinking that’s a fair comeuppance for encouraging, organizing, and leading an armed insurrection, occupying federal lands, and repeatedly threatening to kill federal agents, which is precisely what the brothers Bundy were doing at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Burns, Oregon, for the last month. Well, not quite.

You see, this indictment has nothing to do with that armed occupation. This indictment refers to the Bundy’s first foray into anti-government militancy, in Nevada two years ago.

Bundy Sr. had a decades-long habit of flagrantly grazing his cattle on public land. When government agents tried to confiscate his cattle in 2014, Bundy met them with hundreds of armed militiamen. In the standoff, Bundy’s armed supporters allegedly went so far as to take up sniper positions overlooking the agents. Ultimately the Feds backed off, leaving the cowboys to ride the public range as it were. Now it looks like that was all part of a plan; the government was just waiting for the right time to indict.

Apparently that time was following the group’s second go at fomenting violent protests. In fact, when Bundy Sr. was arrested, his sons were already in jail thanks to their misbehavior at the bird sanctuary.

In a time when overzealous policing and the the use of disproportionate force by representatives of the State is much in the news, it can be helpful to keep this case in mind as a kind of counterbalance. Sometimes in America, you can flagrantly break the law for years, threaten violent revolution against the federal government, menace federal agents with firearms, and even threaten to have snipers murder officers, and then, years later change states, and do it all again. Just don’t be surprised someday when the government finally gets around to putting you in jail.