LAS VEGAS — Protesters with fluttering flags and a bellowing bullhorn faced off Monday outside U.S. court in Las Vegas, while jury selection began inside for six defendants accused of stopping federal agents at gunpoint from rounding up cattle near Cliven Bundy's ranch in April 2014.
About 10 supporters of the jailed rancher and his philosophy that states' rights supersede federal land policy, and a similar number of counter-protesters organized by a conservation advocacy group, remained peaceful beneath the watch of heavily armed federal security officers.
"We're out here to support our fellow citizens and uphold the Constitution against all enemies," said Dan Knowles, a Bundy backer from Oakley, California, who also demonstrated outside the courthouse during several pretrial hearings in the case. "Our government has lost sight of the Constitution," he said.
"I (Heart) Public Lands," read a sign in the hands of Ryan Beam, a Center for Biological Diversity protest organizer from Flagstaff, Arizona. He said his group fears that elected officials want to sell, give away or privatize public property in the West.
Bundy and his sons are not among the first six defendants to go to trial in U.S. District Court in Nevada. They're due for trial after proceedings are completed involving Orville Scott Drexler, Todd Engel, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart, all of Idaho, Gregory Burleson of Phoenix and Richard Lovelein of Oklahoma.
Each is accused of 10 charges including conspiracy, firearm offenses and assault on a federal officer. Each has pleaded not guilty, and each could face up to 101 years in prison if convicted of all charges.