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Today is the four-year anniversary of the protest in Bunkerville, Nevada, widely known worldwide as “The Standoff.”
Recently, I spent the day with Cliven and Carol Bundy at their ranch. I had scheduled some time to come to the ranch attend a celebration of the dismissal of charges but those celebratory plans were quickly dashed as those who languish in lock-up were again brought to the forefront in the hearts of The Bundy’s. “I am not sure what we can do for ‘em,” says Cliven, as we bump down the desert ranch road in the April heat. “Engel and Burleson might have some chance," referring to the post-conviction relief filings both men have in the motion. “But the ones who’d plead guilty I just don’t know what we can do,” shaking his head.
Cliven and Carol are not in the happiest of moods these days; the men left behind weigh heavy on each of them. “The thought of 'em men still living out their days in prison just breaks my heart.” Stopping the truck, we looked over the edge of the northbound bridge of Interstate 15 spanning the Toquah Wash where the famous standoff was held. Cliven described to me about what happened that day. Cliven is careful to be clear neither he or Carol were at the Toquah Wash on April 12, 2014. But, Cliven did see the evidence and discovery in preparation for his own trial, giving him great insight into the actions of all of the Bundy 19. Most he only came to know in Federal Lock-up.
“Right here, this is as far as Todd had walked out on the bridge,” showing me a distance of approximately 35 feet. While I was in Pahrump with Todd Engel, almost a year ago he told me the story where he had just arrived and gotten out of his pickup when a lady had come running up the northbound bridge yelling that the protestors in the wash were being threatened to be shot. He had ran out to see what was going on, to get a better idea of the circumstances, curiosity really, he was just getting there after driving all night from Idaho. He stayed just a few minutes, maybe 20 minutes is all before he and the other men on the bridge saw the snipers on the Mesa targeting the protestors below. Todd also realized he and the other men, Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, were also targeted from those same ‘overwatch’ positions. Todd sprinted back up to the closest Sheriffs’ deputy to plea with the Sheriffs to intervene before the men, women, and children below in the wash were slaughtered. That deputy did heed Todd’s concern and notified his command of the precarious situation that was playing out.
Then Todd stayed off the bridge and out of target range for the remainder of the protest, helping the Nevada Highway Patrol as they attempted to direct traffic and the crowds. Once it was over, and the federal agents left, Todd got in his pickup and drove to Mesquite, Nevada, and got a hotel room to get some much-needed sleep. The next day he drove back to Northern Idaho. Todd came to know only years later how close he had become to losing his life that day. The BLM Rangers had taken their safeties off and requested permission to fire upon the men on the bridge only to be ordered to stand down by the Sheriff's department as they took control ordering federal agents to leave the area.
Todd Engel represented himself during his trial and was one of two men to be found guilty in the first trial in 2017. After spending the sum total of one and a half hours at the protest, the Federal Prosecutor is recommending 20 years for Todd to spend in prison; effectively giving him a life sentence. Most of that time at the standoff he spent with the highway patrol, which did collaborate his version of events during his trial. He never took his gun out of the low ready position, leaving it strapped to his chest or point it at anyone
Gregory Burleson was another latecomer to the protest that day. As we looked over the I15 bridge, Cliven showed me the route and position he took down into the Toquah Wash. “Burleson didn't follow the road down like ‘em other protesters,” said Cliven pointing from behind the wheel of SUV we were sitting in. “He had climbed over the Jersey Barrier and took a more direct route into the Wash from the bridge. When he got down in dee wash, Ammon told Burleson to get back to the northbound bridge.” Ammon had assessed the danger and had told anyone with a rifle to retreat back and away from the center of the confrontation they surprising found themselves in. Greg Burleson did exactly as he was told. He got out of the confrontation and kneeled down, away from the Southern I15 bridge and where the Federal Agents took up the position to fire upon the crowd.
Burleson received a 68-year sentence for his participation that day. “He wasn’t found guilty because of what he did!” Cliven later editorialized. ‘He was found guilty for what he said after the FBI got him drunk and then interviewed him while pretend’n to be reporters,” referring to the undercover operation ‘LongBow Productions.’
Then there are the men who were forced into guilty pleas, Jerry Deleamus, Pete Santilli, Eric Parker, Scott Drexler and others who along with Engel and Buerlson. Had all the evidence been available to them and their courtroom jurors would have made very different decisions. Each of the Bundy 19 were under tremendous pressure, life-altering pressure, that is impossible to understand unless you have personally gone through it. It is how the federal government achieves a 97% conviction rate. It’s why nearly everyone who comes into contact with the federal justice system goes to prison, and for a very long time. Most Americans just assume that if you are a targeted by federal prosecutors you must have done something terrible and they are just really good at convicting the guilty. But, in reality, it’s the pressure and manipulation that the prosecution practices that land so many in prison, leaving the remaining who go to trial. And, when they do maintain their innocence they receive the ire of the prosecutors for challenging them, doling out ungodly long sentences like Burleson's and Engel's.
This is Cliven’s conviction today, on this anniversary: to see each man released and exonerated. After 650 days in prison, Cliven refused to accept the pre-trial release for himself offered by Judge Navarro until every one of the Bundy 19 was released. It was only after all the charges were dismissed against him, did he leave those men behind still in lock-up. “This thing isn’t over. The fight I have today is to see each of these men home with their families and all the charges dropped.” Shaking his head resolutely. “How can I be happy, how can I celebrate my own release, when so many who came to STAND with me are still in prison? How can I not still STAND with them now?”
About Michael Stickler
Mike is an author, radio host, ex-felon, and a highly sought after motivational speaker.
In “Cliven Bundy: American Terrorist Patriot”, author Michael Stickler went behind the razor wire of a federal detention center for 60 days to get Bundy’s real story. (ClivenBundy.net)
To find out the true story of Cliven Bundy, get his new book "Cliven Bundy American Patriot".