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Retrial Begins For 4 Defendants In Cliven Bundy Standoff Case


Jury selection is underway in the retrial of four people involved in an armed standoff between ranchers and federal agents in Nevada back in 2014. The men are followers of Cliven Bundy, and this is one of three separate trials in the case. NPR's Kirk Siegler joins us now from outside the federal courthouse in Las Vegas where the retrial is underway. Hi, Kirk.


SHAPIRO: Remind us what happened in this standoff three years ago. It all stems from this tense armed standoff between federal agents and Cliven Bundy and his militia supporters at the ranch.

SIEGLER: That's right. You know, the Bundys are, of course, the cattle ranchers who resent the federal government controlling public land here in the West. This dispute started over their right to graze cows on federal public lands around their ranch and the unpaid leases that they owed to the federal government for doing that. But it turned into so much more. Many far-right activists, extremist groups who have nothing or little to do with ranching, quickly clinged on to the Bundys' cause.

And it's important to know right off the bat that these cases are completely separate from the case against Cliven Bundy's sons, who led that armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge up in Oregon, though that was largely inspired by this Nevada standoff. Now, what's underway today is a retrial for four of those defendants in the Nevada case. Cliven Bundy and his sons won't actually be in court until after this first retrial is finished, so a lot of drama yet to unfold here.

SHAPIRO: So high stakes for the government, which was unable to get a conviction the first time. Remind us what happened in that first trial and what it says about the strength of the government's case.

SIEGLER: Well, the first trial here ended in a hung jury on many of the charges. And there's been speculation over whether the government is trying to go too far with a federal conspiracy charge here, whether that's too strong with potentially long 20-plus-year prison sentences. And I mentioned Oregon and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. The defendants there were, of course, acquitted. So there's enormous pressure on the prosecutors here in these cases.

And also, you have to consider the mood of the country right now, especially in some rural areas. There are questions whether there's actually sympathy for these sorts of protests against the government even if they're armed. So it'll be interesting to see how the jury in this retrial responds to that.

SHAPIRO: What are you expecting prosecutors to do differently this time?

SIEGLER: I think we can see one possibly big new direction, and that is federal prosecutors may try to link these first four men here in this retrial to a much broader and what they consider potentially violent and dangerous anti-government movement in the West. They're going to point to two subsequent events that were organized by militia groups who surrounded mines on public land in Oregon and Montana that some of these men were involved in where the government says the men, paramilitary style, surrounded the mines and tried to prevent federal officials from enforcing environmental regulations up there. So in answering your question, I think this small retrial right here is going to get complicated pretty quickly.

SHAPIRO: We've been hearing for years about these armed protests and the trials that have come out of them. What are the larger implications for this case?

SIEGLER: Well, I think if you were to get an acquittal here there's a pretty big precedent that's going to be set and a lot of open questions. Would it be OK - if you don't agree with the Federal Land Policy, does that make it OK to just take up arms and protest the federal government? I think that would be unclear here. I think that's why the stakes in this retrial and the subsequent trial of Cliven Bundy and his sons are as high as many people think they will.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler reporting from Las Vegas, Nev. Thanks, Kirk.

SIEGLER: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.