In a tearful testimony Tuesday afternoon, Ammon Bundy began to lay out reasons for his involvement in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
In a sweeping start to his testimony, Bundy attempted to make an emotional case to the jury by explaining his childhood and family, his thoughts on land ownership, and how he felt compelled to act on behalf of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, whom Bundy felt were wronged.
But after nearly two hours of direct questioning, the defense interrupted Bundy’s testimony and called another witness following a recess.
Bundy’s defense attorney, Marcus Mumford, said his client will continue to testify at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Mumford said the continuation of Bundy’s testimony will take up most of the morning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight said his cross-examination will take about 30 minutes.
Hometown: Emmett, Idaho
Leader of the Malheur refuge occupation. Ammon Bundy was acquitted in Oregon. A mistrial was declared in Nevada.
“I live in the Multnomah County Jail right across the street,” Bundy said. “Maximum security.”
Bundy testified his father, Cliven Bundy — currently jailed for leading a 2014 standoff with federal officials in Bunkerville, Nevada — first turned him on to the Hammonds’ case. Cliven urged his son to get involved in Oregon.
“‘I’m afraid that what’s happening to [the Hammonds] is the same thing that’s happened to us,’” Bundy recalled his father saying, breaking down on the stand.
“‘I can’t fight another fight,’” Bundy remembered telling his father. “‘I’m just trying to keep our family from going to prison.’”
Cliven eventually broke his son’s resistance, according to Ammon’s testimony. One night in November 2015, Bundy testified he was having trouble sleeping when he received a text linking to an article about the Hammonds’ case.
“I had this overwhelming feeling that it was my duty to get involved to protect this family,” Bundy said. He began writing a blog post on his family’s website, which he said his wife proofread before blasting the message to contacts they made through the Bunkerville standoff and elsewhere.
According to testimony, Bundy then traveled to Harney County, where he met Steven Hammond and then with Ryan Payne. Bundy testified he and Payne then met with Dwight and Susie Hammond together.
Defense attorney Robert Salisbury, who is representing Jeff Banta, said Bundy’s “passion and his emotion about the Hammonds” stood out to him.
“I just thought that was raw and very real for the jury to see, you know, how much passion he has about their cause,” Salisbury said.
All seven occupiers on trial are charged with conspiracy to impede federal workers from doing their jobs by use of force, threats or intimidation. Salisbury said he thinks Bundy’s testimony “shows the conspiracy was to help the Hammonds.”