Defendant Ammon Bundy took the stand to testify in his trial regarding the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for nearly four hours Wednesday, calmly explaining how his experiences during the Bundy ranch standoff and his religious faith prompted him to go to Oregon to try to help the Hammond family.
Often speaking directly to the jurors, Bundy was ordered by Judge Anna Brown not to read from the pocket Constitution he carried, nor to recite scripture from his Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints book that he had with him.
Bundy explained how the local sheriff in Nevada had intervened for his family in 2014, allowing his father to reclaim the family’s cattle as BLM agents backed down. “I was able to see rights restored,” Bundy testified. “I was able to see our local government stand up for the people and restore their rights and protect them.”
That prompted him to stand with the Hammond family in Oregon, and try to persuade their sheriff to stand with them as well. He said when Harney County, Oregon law enforcement and state leaders ignored his pleas to halt the Hammonds’ return to prison, he received “divine instructions” to take another course of action.
Bundy testified that he met with about 30 people on January 2 and proposed going to the refuge to take possession of it and “take these lands back to the people.”
Bundy, 41, is one of seven defendants, including his brother Ryan, who are charged with “conspiring to impede federal workers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from carrying out their work through intimidation, threats or force.”
He denied that he ever issued any threats to the local sheriff, as Sheriff Dave Ward had testified. Instead, he said his plan was to stake claim to the refugee property because he didn’t believe the government had a right to control it. He said if they hadn’t been armed, they wouldn’t have been taken seriously, and the protest would’ve been shut down quickly. He stated that he still believes that what he and his supporters did was completely legal, and he expected they would have been cited for trespassing and the matter would’ve gone to civil court over who has the right to control the land.
“This is so much bigger than even me or the defendants or the employees of the refuge or the BLM,” Bundy said. “This is so much bigger than the refuge itself.”
The Oregonian Live reported that prosecuting attorney Ethan Knight jumped up and objected to Bundy testifying about his personal view of the law, and Judge Anna Brown told the jurors that this was just Bundy’s opinion and not to regard it as fact.
Bundy’s attorney, Marcus Mumford, objected several times to some of the judge’s rulings, but was shut down.
During one part of the testimony, Bundy referenced scripture from his church’s teachings that says, “It is our duty to go to the judge. It is our duty to go to the representative. It is our duty to go to the president and plead with them to stand up for what is wrong,” he said. “It’s our duty to give each of the officials the opportunity to do what’s right.” “We are not to act until that has been done,” he added.
The prosecuting attorney objected, and the judge warned Bundy not to quote scripture.
Bundy said he was encouraged to stay at the refuge after hearing a speech on Jan. 5 from Rep. Greg Walden, who told about the takeover, saying he shared their frustrations about how federal lands are managed in the west.
“He was articulating in my view exactly how I felt,” Bundy said. “I began to understand what we were doing was working. They were actually starting to listen.”
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