Hometown: Emmett, Idaho
Leader of the Malheur refuge occupation. Ammon Bundy was acquitted in Oregon. A mistrial was declared in Nevada.
Ammon Bundy, one of seven occupiers currently on trial for the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, took the witness stand for the second time Wednesday.
Bundy offered a sprawling testimony that encompassed his Mormon faith, weapons, the U.S. Constitution and Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, among other things.
Bundy’s testimony, which lasted most of Wednesday and is expected to continue Thursday, illustrated some of his motivations in the takeover — and how it rubbed off on fellow occupiers.
Out of the jury’s presence, defendant Neil Wampler stood and vocalized his support for Bundy.
“We all love you, Ammon,” said Wampler, standing and clapping. “Thank you so much for what you’re doing.”
Before the court’s lunch break, Bundy addressed a Jan. 1 video in which he called on people to come to Burns. Bundy said he didn’t have a plan to occupy the refuge at that time, nor was he conspiring with anyone to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs.
Bundy and the six others currently on trial are charged with conspiring to prevent federal workers from doing their jobs through the use of force, intimidation or threats.
“I had a mind that we would go to Burns and make a hard stand,” Bundy said of the video.
But after lunch, Bundy’s testimony differed. He testified that on Jan. 1 — a day before the occupation began — he did, in fact, have a plan to take over the refuge. Bundy said on Jan. 2 he held a meeting with Brian “Booda” Cavalier, Ryan Payne, Ryan Bundy and others at a restaurant in Burns. Bundy testified that during this meeting he shared with the group his idea of occupying the refuge. After that meeting, Bundy said, the first group of occupiers went out to the refuge.
Bundy, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, testified about Mormon doctrine that motivated his actions leading up to the occupation.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown did not allow Bundy to read from scripture when he asked to, but Bundy was allowed to talk about his beliefs that the Constitution is a divinely inspired document created for the “benefit of mankind.”
Bundy said that view of the Constitution was what drew him to the case of Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. The Hammonds were resentenced and ordered to spend more time in prison for a June 2012 arson conviction.
Bundy claimed he first tried to go through local officials to defend the Hammonds.
He described a series of meetings in November with Sheriff David Ward as an attempt to convince him to intervene. Bundy said those meetings were cordial and friendly but ultimately not productive.
When those meetings didn’t work, Bundy said he worked with sympathetic groups such as the Coalition of Western States, the Pacific Patriots Network and the Oregon Constitutional Guard to draft a “redress of grievances.”
That letter was sent to local and state officials Dec. 11. In the letter, the group demanded officials take up the Hammonds’ cause against the federal government by conducting an evidentiary hearing into whether or not the federal government had overreached.
If officials did not act within five days, Bundy and the groups wrote, “We will have no choice but to understand that you do not wish to do your duty and are content in acting in negligence to your solemn oath to the people.”
Bundy said after not hearing back from anyone on the redress of grievances, he met with Harney County community members Dec. 15. Bundy said that meeting is when community members started asking what they should do next.
“That is what the ranching and agricultural community has felt for decades,” Bundy said on the stand Wednesday. “What are we going to do?”
On Jan. 5, Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican who represents much of eastern Oregon, gave an impassioned speech on the U.S. House floor about the occupation.
While he explicitly opposed the occupiers’ actions, Walden said, “I understand and hear their anger.”
“I have seen what happens when overzealous bureaucrats and agencies go beyond the law and clamp down on people,” Walden said.
Bundy testified he spoke with Walden’s office four times throughout the occupation. Walden’s speech inspired and encouraged him, he said.
“[Walden] was articulating, in my view, how I felt, standing on the Congress floor,” Bundy said on the stand. “I began to understand what we were doing was working. They were actually starting to listen.”
Guns And ‘Respect’
Days after the prosecution displayed the stockpile of weapons and ammunition recovered in the occupation investigation, Bundy addressed why the group brought firearms to the refuge.
He testified if occupiers did not bring weapons to take over the refuge, they would have been arrested immediately — and the group’s message unheard.
“The only way to get this message out is if they respected us a little bit,” Bundy testified.
This echoed statements made during the occupation by Ammon’s brother, Ryan Bundy. In January, Bundy said disarming would indicate “a lack of seriousness.”
‘Rights Restored’ In Bunkerville
Much of Bundy’s morning testimony recounting the 2014 standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada. Brown has said Bundy can talk about the standoff, but jurors will only consider how it impacted his mindset in the Oregon case.
Cliven Bundy, Ammon’s father, owed the government several decades’ worth of overdue grazing fees. Federal agents threatened to seize his cattle, but eventually stood down after an armed standoff with militants in the Nevada desert.
On the stand, Ammon Bundy said he viewed the Nevada incident as a victory for his family against an overreaching federal government.
“I was able to see rights restored,” he told jurors.
This story was updated at 6:09 p.m. PST.
The original story was published at 7:28 a.m. PST.