How the Bundy case was bungled

David French explains why a federal judge (an Obama appointee, at that) dismissed the government’s case against far-right activist Cliven Bundy, whose band of misfits was involved in a standoff with Bureau of Land Management officers in 2014:

In its indictment, the federal government claimed that Bundy used “deceit and deception” to recruit its allied “gunmen” to defend his cattle from government seizure. As Mother Jones’s Stephanie Mencimer outlined in a lengthy report on the case, the alleged deceptions included claims that officers abused David Bundy when they arrested him a few days before the standoff and claims that the Bureau of Land Management had surrounded his property with snipers. Here’s Mencimer:

But those claims, dismissed by the government as fiction by paranoid anti-government activists, have largely turned out to be true. And it’s taken the government nearly two years, and three trials, to admit as much in court.

Oops. As Mencimer notes, this information dribbled out over the course of the court proceedings, at least until Larry Wooten, a BLM special agent who worked on the Bundy case, wrote an explosive whistleblower memo outlining a truly stunning series of government misdeeds that went well beyond withholding evidence at the trial.  To be clear, Wooten is no fan of the Bundys. He rightly accused them of pursuing an “illegal, uncivilized, and dangerous strategy,” but the same words apply to the federal government — the alleged guardians of the rule of law.


Wooten also claimed that the special agent in charge “ignored” direction from U.S. attorneys and from BLM management and instead chose to command “the most intrusive, oppressive, large-scale, and militaristic trespass cattle impound possible.” Wooten also claimed there existed “excessive use of force, civil rights, and policy violations,” including deliberate efforts to withhold exculpatory evidence. Wooten not only accused the government of misrepresenting the truth about snipers at trial, he specifically described the snipers’ armament and positioning.

In her ruling dismissing the case, Judge Navarro noted that the government also withheld information about threat assessments indicating that the Bundys weren’t violent, documents showing that cattle grazing “hadn’t threatened the desert tortoise,” and hundreds of pages of internal-affairs documents about the special agent in charge. (BLM had fired him for, in part, “improperly using his position to get coveted tickets for friends to attend the Burning Man arts festival in 2015.”)

Taken together, the evidence demonstrates that sometimes the paranoid are correct. In this case, evidence shows that a federal agency motivated by ego, anger, and prejudice launched the most militaristic and aggressive campaign possible against a rancher whom federal officials had deemed to be likely peaceful. There is evidence they abused that rancher’s son, ringed his property with snipers, and intended to “kick [him] in the mouth and take his cattle.” Then, when it came time to prosecute that same rancher, they withheld the truth and portrayed his accurate claims about federal misconduct as criminal deceptions designed to inflame public outrage.

Federal judges do not dismiss federal prosecutions lightly, and Obama appointees are hardly known to carry water for right-wing militias. Moreover, Judge Navarro’s dismissal is in no way a vindication of Bundy’s tactics. His allies, after all, went so far as to put women in the front of the firing line with the express hope that they’d die first in any firefight — and embarrass the federal government in front of the world. Others pointed guns straight at federal officers. That’s not civil disobedience, that’s armed resistance, and it’s entirely inappropriate when — as we see here — the law still offered redress against violations of Bundy’s civil rights.

The judge, however, understood her legal obligations. Who is the greater threat to public peace and the rule of law? A rancher and his sons angry that the government is destroying his livelihood in part through political favoritism and vindictiveness? Or a government that acts as if might makes right, abuses its citizens, and uses maximum force when far less intrusion and risk would accomplish its lawful purposes?

More here.  Above the Law’s Elie Mystal, of course, thinks the Bundys got away with it because they were white:

You know, if I rallied hundreds of armed black people to my cause to protest paying a federal tax, intimidating federal agents who had duly come to collect, I wouldn’t be in jail. I’D BE DEAD. They’d send in a robot to blow up my house, even if my children were inside. Then, at my posthumous trial, they’d put my family on the hook for all my debts.

I am, of course, non-white. …


Prosecutors withheld the evidence gathered from some witnesses because (wait for it) BUNDY SUPPORTERS ALLEGEDLY THREATENED WITNESSES.

“As a result of threats to witnesses and the speed at which personal information can spread on social media, the government concluded it could not simply turn over its entire database,” prosecutors wrote in a brief before Monday’s hearing. “Failure to disclose the information underlying the court’s mistrial order was due, in a few instances, to simple inadvertence, but in the overwhelming majority of instances to a good-faith,” they said.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say “two wrongs don’t make a right,” or “don’t worry about what other people have, worry about what you have,” or “the operation of laws should always be praised,” or some other child’s platitude made up by white America to explain why white people are able to get away with gun-toting acts of violence that would result in an IMMEDIATE DEATH SENTENCE to any person of color.

But I don’t have it in me.

Do you know how much the justice system looks like a supremacist JOKE when you let these people take a walk? It is PROOF that there is one set of rules for white people, and a different set of rules for everybody else. These dudes are out here in armed rebellion. Let that happen in East L.A. and Trump would send in a motherjumping DRONE STRIKE.

Whatever. White people win, again. ‘Twas always thus.

Actually, the Judge – again, an Obama appointee, not a Roy Moore type – dismissed prosecutors’ claims that evidence had to be withheld to protect its witnesses.  Interesting, when people like Mistal choose to unquestioningly accept prosecutors’ word.

Still, we’ve seen far too many examples of African-Americans’ rights being disregarded, and their lives taken, by aggressive, overly militarized law enforcement officers.   You may not agree with all of the Black Lives Matter movement’s ideas and tactics (I certainly don’t) but no honest observer can deny the movement has very legitimate reasons for being.

But I wish people would look at cases like the Bundys and say these rights should be protected for the most vulnerable Americans, instead of being disregarded for everyone.

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