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Trial Of Nevada Militia Case To Open In Las Vegas


In the city of Las Vegas this morning, jury selection is getting underway in the federal conspiracy trial against rancher Cliven Bundy and his militia followers. Bundy is facing more than a dozen felony charges, including assault on a federal officer, in connection with an armed standoff against federal agents. NPR's Kirk Siegler has more.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Cliven Bundy owes the federal government close to a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees and fines dating back to the 1990s. It all boiled over in April of 2014, when federal agents came to round up hundreds of his cows near his ranch in the Nevada desert. They were met by the armed Bundy militia, some on horseback, waving American flags. Interstate 15 was blocked, guns were drawn, and things got extremely tense. Federal agents in military-style combat fatigues eventually stood down as shown in this YouTube video.


CLIVEN BUNDY: We're going to go and take our land back.

SIEGLER: Cliven Bundy wasn't arrested until almost two years later, last January, when he flew to Oregon to join his sons who were leading an armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. His sons were recently acquitted in that case, though they still face charges with their father in Nevada. The Nevada case is completely separate and its implications could be much bigger. Cliven Bundy is seen as the mastermind behind this anti-government movement. And after the surprise Oregon verdict, Rick Pocker says prosecutors are no doubt rethinking their strategy.

RICK POCKER: The pressure is really on the government.

SIEGLER: Pocker is a former U.S. attorney from Nevada.

POCKER: If there's two straight acquittals of individuals who engage in pretty much the same conduct and it's very confrontational with the federal authorities, that could embolden a lot of folks on the right wing of the ideological spectrum.

SIEGLER: Pocker says the government needs to show that the Bundys and others intended to harm federal officers - that it wasn't just a protest, and that's important if they want a conviction. Like in Oregon, a lot is riding on jury selection, with jurors being pulled from across southern Nevada.

POCKER: You have rural communities in Alamo, Mesquite and places like that, where the sentiment is a lot closer to those who resist the federal government on these lands issues than to, say, somebody from inner-city Las Vegas.

SIEGLER: The 17 defendants will be tried in three separate phases. The Bundys and the other lead organizers may not be in court themselves for weeks.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA'S "ATTESA 2014 RECORDING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.