Jury selection begins Monday in a Las Vegas federal court in the trial of six men stemming from an armed standoff near Cliven Bundy’s ranch three years ago.
In April 2014, agents from the Bureau of Land Management were attempting to seize Bundy’s cattle when a tense confrontation ensued. No shots were fired, but the indictment claimed protesters pointed guns at federal agents in protest.
The dispute stemmed from Bundy’s cattle grazing on federally protected lands. The federal indictment said Bundy was under a 1998 court order demanding he remove his cattle from federal lands.
Bundy and his supporters said they believed the government was far too encroaching, violating their free speech and gun rights.
“The defense will want to try it as, they’re patriots, this is free speech, they have a right to bear arms, all those things the government is going to say are irrelevant to the case because you either committed a crime or you didn’t,” Thomas Pitaro, a local criminal defense attorney not affiliated with the case, said.
This is the first trial out of three. A federal judge last December ordered the trials be separated based on the defendants’ level of involvement in the standoff, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.
The six men on trial now are considered low-level defendants according to the court.
The second trial is scheduled to be held 30 days after the first and will feature Cliven Bundy and his sons, Ryan and Ammon. Daniel Hill, the attorney for Ammon Bundy, said he thought it would have been feasible to try all the defendants together.
He added, “I think the government, rather than seeking justice, is trying to seek a tactical advantage in the groups it has selected.”
Last fall, a federal jury found Ammon Bundy and his six co-defendants not guilty on all charges for taking over a federal wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon earlier in 2016. They were charged with conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The defendants said they were engaging in a peaceful protest, pressing their case against federal control of Western lands and the imprisonment of two ranchers convicted of setting fires.
The upcoming trial is expected to draw media coverage and U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro issued an order last week to keep jurors’ identities private, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.
In all, 17 defendants were indicted on the same charges including extortion, assault, and threats.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Andrew Craft is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Las Vegas, Nevada . Follow him on twitter: @AndrewCraft