Cliven Bundy, the rancher at the center of a 2014 standoff in Nevada relating to grazing rights on federal land, was indicted Wednesday along with his sons, and two others on 16 felony charges.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Nevada announced the federal grand jury indictment, describing the men's actions as the "armed assault of federal law enforcement officers."
Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, Pete Santilli, and Ryan Paine are currently in federal custody in Oregon, where they have been held following the 40-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The younger Bundys, as well as Santilli and Payne, are also facing charges related to the Oregon standoff.
According to federal prosecutors, the five men were indicted Wednesday on the following counts:
- Conspiracy to commit an offense against the U.S.
- Conspiracy to impede and injure a federal law enforcement officer
- Assault on a federal law enforcement officer
- Threatening a federal law enforcement officer
- Use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence
- Obstruction of the due administration of justice
- Interference with interstate commerce by extortion
- Interstate travel in aid of extortion
If convicted, several of the charges could be punished by up to 20 years in federal prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. The government could also seize $3 million in assets that prosecutors said the Bundys gained from their illegal activities.
"The rule of law has been reaffirmed with these charges," U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said in a statement. "Persons who use force and violence against federal law enforcement officers who are enforcing court orders, and nearly causing catastrophic loss of life or injury to others, will be brought to justice."
Cliven Bundy has been in a dispute with the government over grazing rights on federal land for 20 years. In 1993, federal lands around his ranch were designated as protected. But the southeastern Nevada cattle rancher continued to graze his herds there without a permit, racking up $1 million in fines he never paid.
In a statement following his arrest, Ammon Bundy said it was in fact the federal government that was breaking the law as defined in the U.S. Constitution — and those who stood up to the federal government were thrown in prison.
"For several decades federal agencies have been taking ranches, mines, properties, and forests all over the United States," he said. "They remove the rightful owners in the name of government and begin using the property for their own benefit. Through these actions federal agencies have destroyed the economies of hundreds of counties leaving the people with very little to survive on."
In 2014, the Bundys' confrontation with the federal government came to a head. Bureau of Land Management officials stepped in with a court order to take about 400 cattle because of the growing outstanding fines. The Bundys refused and called hundreds of supporters to their cause. At its peak, the standoff included Bundy supporters pointing rifles from an overpass at a BLM camp as it was surrounded by protesters.
The federal officials backed off, citing safety concerns, and Bundy continued to graze on the land and kept the cattle. But the government vowed to continue to pursue its case within the court system.
“Today marks a tremendous step toward ending more than 20 years of law breaking,” Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze said in a statement on Wednesday. “The nation's public lands belong to all Americans.”
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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