A federal jury in Nevada is about to be picked to decide whether a tense standoff pitting armed ranchers and rangers against federal agents over a herd of cattle in a dry river bed amounted to a peaceful expression of free speech and weapon rights, or an insurrection against the U.S. government.
Trial begins Monday in Las Vegas for six men — the first of a trio of proceedings for 17 defendants that will later include Nevada cattleman Cliven Bundy, four of his adult sons and seven other men. Each is facing the equivalent of the rest of his life in prison for the confrontation nearly three years ago.
The courtroom showdown is the latest battle over Western federal land policy dating to the Sagebrush Rebellion in Nevada more than 40 years ago. A jury in Oregon in October acquitted seven people, including two Bundy brothers, of federal conspiracy and weapon charges in an occupation of a federal wildlife refuge.
“They’re not the Bundys,” said Todd Leventhal, attorney for defendant Orville Scott Drexler, one of the six whose case begins Monday. “But realistically, this is a Bundy case. The outcome of this trial affects the other two.”
Although they’ve been characterized as the least culpable “followers and gunmen” among the 19 men arrested a year ago, stakes are high for Drexler, Todd Engel, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart, all of Idaho, Gregory Burleson of Phoenix and Richard Lovelein of Oklahoma.
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