In spite of what could be called “deliberate manipulation” by Judge Navarro, a federal jury in Las Vegas delivered not guilty verdicts against the four men wrongfully accused of taking up arms against federal agents during the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014. Many families and patriotic Americans all over the country celebrated the news in various ways. Still, some questions remain.
This is the second time a jury failed to convict the defendants on charges of conspiracy, extortion, assault and obstruction for helping Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy fend off a government roundup of his cattle by the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy had refused to pay grazing fees where he said his family grazed cattle since the early 1900s. The situation escalated quickly and became heated in 2014 when Ammon Bundy was shot with a stun gun and then pictures of euthanized cattle and armed Bureau of Land Management agents began to surface on the internet. As you may already know, people from around the nation came to the aid of Bundy in an effort to defend and ensure constitutionally authorized functions. An unfortunate chain of events led to another situation in Oregon in 2016 over similar issues and with similar players. When the dust settled, several protesters were arrested and one lay dead.
Flash forward to this week. Richard Lovelien and Steven Stewart were acquitted on all counts. Eric Parker and Scott Drexler were acquitted on the most serious charges of conspiracy and extortion. It took four days of deliberations for the jury to return the not guilty verdicts. The jury was unfortunately deadlocked and a mistrial was announced on a handful of other charges for the two. Parker and Drexler were released to a halfway house yesterday and will return to court later this morning (Aug 23) where they will find out if they will be allowed to go free after a scheduled detention hearing.
The questions that remain for Parker are in regard to charges such as assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal officer and two related counts of use of a firearm. Drexler faces charges such as assault on a federal officer and brandishing a firearm. While Navarro did declare a mistrial on those counts, it is unknown at this time if the government will waste more taxpayer dollars and seek a third trial. It is also unknown if the people of that state (or any state) would allow it. My advice would be to keep an eye on it because I doubt this is over.
Of course another question that someone should probably raise at some point is that of Judge Navarro’s conduct in court. As USAToday wrote, Navarro “restricted defendants from raising constitutional arguments, or mounting any defense based on their First Amendment rights to free speech and their Second Amendment rights to bear arms.” One has to wonder what set of laws or rules Navarro was following to not allow the Constitution in her courtroom. If she had allowed the Law of the Land in her court, it is hard to say what would have happened with the remaining charges against either Parker or Drexler. With that in mind, it seems only appropriate to remind my readers of the words in Article VI of the United States Constitution:
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
Another great reminder might be the words of Chief Justice Marshall when he said in Marbury v Madison that “A Law repugnant to the Constitution is void.” I believe both of these reminders should be well heard by any and all. Without them, we have really have nothing.
Regardless, and in spite of the many setbacks and heartbreaks, we should know that this verdict has been a long time coming. Eric Parker and the others had already spent over 15 months in jail while the federal government tried and retried their case. We must also know that something is amiss when you consider that these men literally hurt no one and still spent that kind of time behind bars. In contrast and for clarity of this point; Michelle Carter, who recently made headlines for pressuring her boyfriend into suicide, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 15 months. Insult to injury is that she was allowed to remain free pending her appeals.
There is no doubt that these men often times felt alone in their struggle, but they weren’t. Many men and women kept a very close eye on the trial and many reached out to help the families of the men being held, while others spent a great deal of time trying to raise awareness during what seemed like a media blackout. Even political consultant, lobbyist, strategist and friend of Donald Trump, Roger Stone, campaigned hard to get a full pardon of the men. In July, he went to Nevada and in front of a large crowd, he called the FBI agents involved “Federal mercenaries,” and claimed Lavoy Finicum was murdered in cold blood, which brought “death and dishonor to our country.” Of course, no pardon was received and it is unknown how much Donald Trump really knew of the proceedings.
On that note, I would like to take a moment to remind everyone that the case against FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita is ongoing. He is charged with three counts of making false statements to federal and state investigators and two counts of obstruction of justice. Specifically, he is charged with lying about firing two shots at the Oregon standoff spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. This is significant considering that a federal jury found Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants involved in the Oregon standoff not guilty of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. This also means that Finicum too, was not guilty. Yet, he lost his life as he was fired upon by federal agents as he raced to the safety of the local Sheriff.
Now, with all of this mind, and considering the recent developments in Nevada, one has to wonder how if all of these people are being found not guilty, then why was Finicum shot and killed during the exchange and why are there not more federal actors being brought up on charges? After all, FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita was not alone in his actions and they were all being guided by someone. At the end of the day, I think we should all have only one more question to ask. Two sides faced off two different times over a small set of very specific reasons. If the one side has been repeatedly found not guilty for their stance, then should we be looking a little harder at the “other side’s” actions that caused the standoffs in the first place?