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John L. Smith On The New Bundy Trial, And The Culture Of Extremism

Cliven Bundy at his Nevada ranch.

The main event has finally arrived in the legal battle stemming from the April 12, 2014, standoff between angry supporters of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and federal officers trying to secure a court-ordered roundup of his cattle.

Jury selection in the federal trial of Bundy, four of his sons along with two other men has begun in U.S. District Court.

KNPR's State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith has covered previous trials and will be there for this one, too.

“It really strikes at the heart of the imagery, not only of western land use and the question of how much control federal government should have over land in a certain state but beyond that it really strikes at the imagery of the western libertarian, the cowboy imagery and all of that,” Smith said of the whole Bundy case.

The fascination with the Bundy trial stretches across the country and even overseas, he said.

The evidence in the trial has been seen before and there's a lot of it, including videos from the day of the standoff, audio recordings, internet information and social media posts.

But Smith points out that the mountain of evidence hasn't meant easy convictions.

“We’ll see how much the evidence actually plays with jurors," he said, "In previous trials, some of that evidence had very mixed results with jurors.”

Some defendants were acquitted on charges, but another was convicted and sentenced to 68 years in prison, others got seven years and still, others took a minimum plea deal.

“The key thing is because there were no shots fired all the evidence pretty much cuts both ways," Smith said, "Were people reckless because they brought guns to a protest or were they prudent and law-abiding because they didn’t fire them?”

He said the defense may not be allowed to ask those questions, but the jurors will certainly be asking those tough questions.

“Clearly, Steve Myhre, the top prosecutor, has pointed to the danger that was inherent and that was stocked by Bundy’s language and activity and that’s something they’re going to be hammering away at.”

One of the big questions the jury will have to answer is what responsibility does someone bear if he invites armed militia members to his ranch, sets up a camp for them, and uses them as a security crew and then they point guns at federal agents.

Smith expects opening arguments to begin next week.



John L. Smith, contributor

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)