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UPDATE 2-Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy broke law in armed standoff -prosecutor
(Adds courtroom details, case background)
By Julie Ann Formoso
LAS VEGAS, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy
and his followers were defying the rule of law by threat of
violence, rather than engaging in a legal protest, when they
took up arms against federal agents who had seized his cattle, a
U.S. prosecutor told jurors on Tuesday.
Bundy, two of his sons and a fourth defendant are accused of
conspiracy and other charges stemming from their role in the
2014 armed standoff, which galvanized militia groups challenging
U.S. government authority in the American West.
The acting U.S. attorney for Nevada, Steven Myhre, laid out
the government's case against the four men in opening statements
at a trial expected to last through February, anticipating
defense arguments that Bundy and supporters essentially had
staged an act of patriotic civil disobedience.
"These events were not protests. A protest sends a message
peacefully," Myhre said. "It is a crime to impede ... an
enforcement officer as they execute an order of the court."
The revolt was sparked by the court-ordered roundup of
Bundy's cattle by agents of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
after he had refused for 20 years to pay his fees required to
graze his herds on federal property.
Answering Bundy's call for help, hundreds of followers -
many heavily armed - rallied to his ranch near Bunkerville,
Nevada, about 75 miles (120 km) northeast of Las Vegas, in April
2014, demanding that his livestock be returned.
Outnumbered law enforcement officers ultimately retreated
rather than risk bloodshed, and no shots were ever fired.
During his two-hour presentation to the jury, Myhres
displayed photos from the confrontation showing armed men
crouched liked snipers peering through the scopes of rifles he
said were pointed at law enforcement. He also exhibited social
media posts he said were used to recruit militia members,
including images that gave a false impression that Bundy was
under siege at his ranch.
The defense was due to present its opening statements after
a lunch break. Earlier in the day, about 20 Bundy supporters
formed a prayer circle just outside the federal courthouse in
Las Vegas. Others packed the defense side of the courtroom
gallery during proceedings, many taking notes on legal pads.
The Bunkerville dispute marked a flashpoint in
long-simmering tensions between activists and the government
over federal control of public lands in the West, and gave rise
two years later to an armed occupation by some of Bundy's
followers of a U.S. wildlife center in Oregon.
Standing trial with Bundy, 71, are his sons, Ammon and Ryan
Bundy, along with Ryan Payne, a Montana resident linked by
prosecutors to a militia group called Operation Mutual Aid.
In addition to conspiracy charges, they are accused of
assault, obstruction of justice, felony threats and various
Cliven and Ammon Bundy wore red jail uniforms on Tuesday in
court, while Ryan Bundy and Payne dressed in civilian clothes.
A would-be fifth defendant, internet blogger and radio host
Peter Santilli Jr., pleaded guilty on Oct. 6 to conspiracy and
faces a possible six-year prison term.
Six lesser-known participants in the Nevada showdown went on
trial earlier this year. A mistrial was declared for four of
them, and the jury found two guilty, one of whom received a
prison term of 68 years. The other awaits sentencing.
Of the four remaining defendants from the first trial, two
were retried and acquitted, and two pleaded guilty to lesser
charges in exchange for a maximum one-year prison term.
Yet another group of six defendants, including two other
Bundy sons, Dave and Mel Bundy, are due to stand trial after the
current trial ends.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with five other people, were all
acquitted in a separate conspiracy case last year arising from
the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
in remote eastern Oregon in Oregon.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Michael Perry and Lisa
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