Bundy wildlife refuge occupation: How the trial breaks the legal mold

The trial of Ammon and Ryan Bundy and others for their armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon will begin Wednesday. 

John Locher/Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP/File
Rancher Cliven Bundy, flanked by armed supporters, speaks at a protest camp near Bunkerville, Nev., April 18, 2014.

Seven anti-government activists, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are scheduled to go to trial this week for their role in taking over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon – a trial that could be nearly as unorthodox as the crime itself.

The armed occupation of the wildlife refuge began on Jan. 2, with at least a dozen men taking part in the protest against federal control of public land in the West. The seven defendants are charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers, to which they pleaded not guilty in February, and possession of firearms in a federal facility. 

Jury selection begins Wednesday, with court documents indicating that the defense will use some unusual tactics.

In a court document made public last week, Bundy attorney Marcus Mumford cited the 1948 western film "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" to make a point about federal jurisdiction, the Los Angeles Times reports. In one scene in the classic movie, Fred Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) asks a lawman who is actually a bandit where his badge is, to which the lawman responds, "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"

"The government's response says, essentially, 'We don't need to prove no stinking subject matter jurisdiction!' " Mr. Mumford said. "But that's the thing, they do." 

One of the brothers, Ryan Bundy, is acting as his own attorney. The elder Bundy brother has drawn attention for his attempts to subpoena Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and other government officials to testify in the case, seeking $800,000 in damages for his arrest, and claiming to be a member of the "sovereign Bundy family," thereby making him immune to federal law. 

In one court motion, he referred to himself as an idiot, writing: "I, ryan c, man, am an idiot of the 'Legal Society' and; am an idiot (layman, outsider) of the 'Bar Association'; and; i am incompetent; and; am not required by any law to be competent," the Los Angeles Times reports. 

Ryan and Ammon are the sons of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who in 2014 led an armed land occupation in Nevada. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in February, shortly after Cliven Bundy was arrested after traveling to Oregon to help his sons with their wildlife refuge occupation:

Bundy, who has said he does not recognize the authority of the United States government, became a states' rights hero in 2014, when hundreds of supporters, many of them armed, gathered at his ranch near Bunkerville, Nev., to oppose federal officials, who sought to round up cattle he had illegally grazed on government land since the 1990s. He had ignored numerous orders to remove the animals or pay a fine, amassing $1 million in fees and penalties.

The Bureau of Land Management ultimately backed off, alarmed at the prospect of violence. But some analysts have said the decision cemented the Bundys as folk legends, and helped strengthen burgeoning militia movements around the country. 

Cliven Bundy and four of his sons are scheduled to go to trial next year in Nevada. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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