President Pardons Jailed Ranchers

Good news for patriots across the United States! Front-page story of our most recent American Free Press. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for print subscription options or click here for digital options.

By Mark Anderson

President Donald Trump on July 10 signed presidential pardons for 76-year-old Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, 49—the embattled Oregon ranchers who suffered gross injustices after they were forced to serve consecutive prison terms despite being found innocent by a jury of the most serious charges. Their jailing eventually spurred the respected Bundy ranching family to protest the men’s plight at the Malheur nature preserve.

“The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges,” a White House statement said. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”

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The Hammonds, sentenced to five years in 2012 for that conviction, became the focal point of ranchers and others who oppose the federal government’s notoriously wasteful and costly mismanagement of massive tracts of Western lands to which it claims “ownership.” While mainstream media have simplistically claimed “they had set a series of fires on their ranch that spread to federal land,” in reality, the Hammonds started a “backburn” on their grazing land in Harney County, Ore. The controlled burn was lit, without malicious intent, to mitigate the impact of a totally separate fire on adjacent federal land that was headed their way.

In response to the Hammonds’ jailing, protesters, including the sons of famed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County in early 2016. The mainstream media were quick to call it an “armed standoff.” However, the only use of firearms came when one of the occupiers, soft-spoken Robert LaVoy Finicum, died with his hands in the air in a hail of gunfire from state police and federal agents when he exited the driver’s seat of his vehicle at a police roadblock, while en route to a diplomatic meeting with area law enforcement.

Cliven Bundy, who became a focal point on the long, hard road he and scores of other ranchers have had to travel to expose and resist the overreach of the federal “landlord,” reacted to the news of the Hammonds’ clemency, telling AFP: “This is a great day for America, a great day for the ranchers in Oregon, and a great day for the Bundy family.”

Bundy explained: “The Bundy family didn’t have any vested interest in the Hammonds, except that they were ranching neighbors. My son Ammon called on local, county, state, and federal officials [about the Hammond’s plight]. Not one would respond

to his call. President Trump is the only man in these governments who responded to Ammon’s call and found the federal government’s criminal justice system was unjust.”

He continued: “The Hammonds sacrificed their ranch and money to attorneys and paid the federal government thousands and thousands of dollars, and LaVoy Finicum lost his life. The federal government cost my son Ammon $15 million. He had two thriving businesses; the federal government stepped in and told the people he was doing business with to stop doing business with Ammon. They weren’t just happy to put Ammon in jail and to murder LaVoy. They wanted to ruin people’s lives.”

Cliven summarized, “Shame on you, America, for allowing this to happen, and thank you, President Trump, for trying to make things straight.”

Mark Anderson is AFP’s roving editor.




Feds Fail to Convict More Bundy Supporters

TWO MORE BUNDY SUPPORTERS GO FREE

By Mark Anderson

In the ongoing “Bundy” trials, as they’ve come to be known, on Aug. 22, a jury was unable to convict four defendants who were retried this summer after prosecutors failed to get a conviction the first time around. Two of those four, Steven Stewart and Richard Lovelien, have been acquitted of all charges and are free men. O. Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, however, were acquitted on most but not all counts and are still in federal custody. After languishing in federal prison for around 18 months like the rest of the defendants in this saga, Drexler and Parker have been released to home detention. Although their retrial saw them formally acquitted on some charges, it ended simply with “no verdict” on other charges: assault on a federal officer and related firearm charges stemming from their part in a protest against the attempted seizure of Cliven Bundy’s cattle during an April 12, 2014 “standoff” with armed U.S. Bureau of Land Management agents. This means that Drexler and Parker will be retried on the remaining charges —for a third time. And the charges are rather serious.

Parker is still facing four counts of assaulting a federal officer, threatening a federal officer, using a firearm in a crime of violence while assaulting a federal officer, and the same firearm charge to threaten a federal officer. Drexler’s remaining charges are assaulting a federal officer and using a firearm in a crime of violence to assault a federal officer. More good news is that, amid the hard reality of having been imprisoned and denied a speedy trial as the Constitution requires, Cliven Bundy— the patriarch of a family synonymous with protesting often heavy-handed federal land policies—will finally be going to trial in the same federal court. He’ll be joined by several other defendants who backed him and his family at that April 2014 protest, where some protestors did carry firearms to exercise their Second Amendment rights in an open-carry state, yet no shots were fired in the encounter.

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Judge Gloria Navarro of the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas set a date of Oct. 10 for jury selection to begin there for the trial of the second set of defendants, which includes Cliven and several others. According to the original court schedule, there were to be three trials. Cliven, his sons Ammon and Ryan, Internet radio host Pete Santilli, and Ryan Payne have long been slated to be the second trial’s defendants. But due to the most recent developments, Drexler and Parker will join them in mid-October. “This next trial involving Cliven is the so-called ‘leadership’ trial, as the government sees it,” said legal expert Roger Roots of Montana, who has attended nearly every day of the trial. Cliven, his two sons, Santilli, and Payne each face 15 charges generally including conspiracy, assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, and obstruction and extortion. Though it seems unlikely at this juncture, conviction on all charges would ensure life imprisonment for all.




First Nevada Trial of Bundy Supporters Ends in Hung Jury

There is some good news to report today. The first trial of activists that stood up to the federal government in support of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy ended in a hung jury on Monday night, meaning federal prosecutors were unable to get convictions. The men are facing years in prison.

By Mark Anderson

LAS VEGAS, Nevada—In the first trial of the landmark Cliven Bundy property-rights case, the jury deadlocked on April 24, and U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro was forced to declare a mistrial, according to Roger Roots, an author and legal expert who’s been in the U.S. District courtroom in Nevada nearly every day of this trial. The trial started Feb. 6 and dragged on longer than expected.

Due to the hung jury, four of the six defendants—Richard Lovelien, Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler, and Steven Stewart—“were nether acquitted nor convicted” of any of the serious conspiracy and other charges leveled at them by the federal government, Roots noted. The 12-member jury did not come close to convicting these men, voting 10-2 in favor of acquitting two of them, while splitting on the others, according to defense lawyers.

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Defendants are being tried for their part in supporting longtime rancher Cliven Bundy in the now-legendary April 2014 standoff between armed federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents and the elder Bundy, four of the Bundy sons, and a host of supporters.

When the BLM showed up that spring to impound hundreds of Bundy’s cattle for his alleged unpaid grazing fees on public lands, several supporters traveled long distances to southern Nevada, near Bunkerville, to stand with Bundy in protest of federal land policies. The standoff was dubbed by some as “The Battle of Bunkerville,” though not a single shot was fired.

Notably, the federal indictment, which names a total of 17 defendants, contains 16 charges, mainly “conspiracy” counts, but not all the counts apply to everyone.

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The Bundy case has been divided into three trials, in order to make things more manageable for the federal government, which has been laboring to make its case—claiming that those who gathered with the elder Bundy pointed their weapons at well-armed federal officers in a “threatening” manner.

The government seeks to send all the defendants to prison—for life, if possible.

The defense maintains that Bundy’s supporters showed up to exercise their First and Second Amendment rights simply to protest BLM land policies.

According to Roots, the question of whether the government will re-try the four defendants not acquitted by this jury remained unanswered as of this writing, although the Arizona Republic’s April 25 edition claimed Judge Navarro is intent on re-trying them starting June 26—which is also the proposed starting date for the second trial. Roots remarked, “There’s no way that [schedule] is going to work.”

“Maybe you can’t call this [deadlocked jury] a victory for the Bundy side,” he added, “but the government’s ‘stock’ went down in this thing. And the feds, including the judge, are under a lot of pressure to try and provide speedy trials. You have to remember that this first group [of “less culpable” defendants] was supposed to be the ‘easy’ one for the government.”

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TWO CONVICTED

The jury did find the two others in the opening trial—Todd Engel and Gregory Burleson—guilty of some charges, with Burleson bearing the brunt.

Engel was charged with obstruction of justice and using interstate commerce to commit extortion, so he could possibly be sentenced to two years in prison. Any credit he may get for time already served behind bars would reduce his sentence, perhaps drastically.

The jury found Burleson guilty of assaulting federal officers, using a firearm to assault federal officers, threatening federal officers, using a firearm to threaten federal officers, obstruction of justice, interfering with interstate commerce by extortion (and using a firearm in that interference/extortion charge), Roots recounted. However, Burleson was spared conviction on any of the heavyweight conspiracy charges.

As noted earlier, the second trial is expected to start on June 26, three weeks beyond earlier estimates of June 5 or 6. Bundy and two of his sons, Ryan and Ammon, along with Ryan Payne and Internet journalist Pete Santilli, are the defendants in that trial. It is expected to be an exceedingly high-profile affair in which the bedrock fundamentals of federal land jurisdiction and control are likely to be rigorously debated.

The third and final trial is expected sometime in the fall, involving Bundy’s sons Mel and Dave, along with Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods, and Micah McGuire.

Mark Anderson is a longtime newsman now working as the roving editor for AFP. Email him at [email protected]