PORTLAND, Ore. — Under a brief, but rapid-fire cross-examination, Ammon Bundy denied leading the occupation of a national wildlife refuge and defended receiving a U.S. Small Business Administration loan.
Bundy, 41, who’s on trial for conspiring to impede Interior Department workers from doing their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was quickly reminded Thursday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight that he had earlier testified that he was the leader.
Bundy said he was not a leader in the way Knight considers him to be. The man who led followers to the refuge for the 41-day standoff with law enforcement said he teaches “core principles” to people and lets them govern themselves.
Those principles, spoken of in great detail during three days of testimony this week, include Bundy’s belief that the federal government can’t own land within a state’s borders, except for limited purposes.
Knight closed his 15-minute cross-examination by getting Bundy to acknowledge receiving a $530,000 U.S. Small Business Administration loan, a move to show Bundy isn’t opposed to the federal government when it can help him profit.
Bundy said he supports the federal government, but not its management of land within states.
Bundy has said he came to Oregon’s high desert to help locals deal with an overreaching federal government that has abused people’s land rights for decades. The immediate issue was the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond, two ranchers who Bundy felt were unjustly returning to prison on arson convictions.
Earlier Thursday, Bundy was questioned by his own attorney and lawyers representing the other six people charged in the alleged conspiracy. One was his brother and co-defendant Ryan Bundy, who’s acting as his own lawyer.
“How you doing, brother?” Ammon asked Ryan at the start of the testimony.
The pair discussed their relationship, from childhood to the start of the occupation. Ammon testified that the pair spoke by phone in the run up to the occupation, but never discussed the refuge or impeding federal workers.
Ryan Bundy did not arrive in southeast Oregon until the morning of the occupation, his brother said.
“I know you were not very prepared, didn’t have much of a jacket,” said Ammon Bundy, showing his brother had planned to attend a rally in support of the Hammonds but did not intend an extended stay.
Co-defendant Shawna Cox, also acting her own lawyer, briefly questioned Bundy. Lawyers for the other four defendants — Kenneth Medenbach, Jeff Banta, Neil Wampler and David Fry — asked questions designed to show they had only brief interactions with Bundy and were not involved in key decisions.
Medenbach’s lawyer, Matthew Schindler, asked Bundy how a federal employee was supposed to work when Bundy was using her office and sitting in her chair.
“I didn’t really think of it,” Bundy said.
Answering questions from his own lawyer, Bundy repeated statements from earlier in the week that the group planned to take ownership of the refuge by means of adverse possession, which is a way to gain title to land by occupying it for a period of time. The defense displayed videos that showed Bundy lecturing on the topic at the refuge.
Bundy testified he did not visit the refuge before the occupation and had to use GPS to find it.
The prosecutor returned to that statement during his cross-examination, asking Bundy if he really needed GPS to find a place in which he intended to stay until 2036. Bundy responded that he expected the government to try to evict him — not arrest him — and the land dispute would be settled in civil court.
Prosecutors allege the conspiracy began two months before the occupation, when Bundy and another activist arrived in Harney County and gave Sheriff Dave Ward an ultimatum — protect the Hammonds from returning to federal prison or face extreme civil unrest.
Knight reminded Bundy that he told Ward during a Nov. 19 meeting that he wasn’t bluffing.
Bundy said he couldn’t remember a conversation that happened 11 months ago.
“Didn’t we listen to a recording of it two days ago?” Knight asked.
“Yeah, bits and pieces,” Bundy said.
Early Thursday, Bundy testified that he moved freely during the occupation, giving law enforcement plenty of chances to arrest him and end the occupation early. He said he traveled to nearby Burns for a haircut and Chinese food, and made three trips to see his wife and six kids in Emmett, Idaho.
Bundy also described the Jan. 26 traffic stop on a highway north of the refuge that ended with his arrest. He said he feared getting shot if he made a move and was too afraid to pick up his hat. He said armed police were in trees and everywhere else.
“I had red dots all over me,” he said.
Police fatally shot Robert “LaVoy” Finicum after he fled the stop in a different vehicle.
When Bundy called it an ambush, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown halted further mention of the topic, reminding the courtroom that Finicum’s death isn’t being litigated.
Finicum’s wife, Jeanette, testified late Thursday. In tears, she recalled how she repeatedly asked LaVoy to come home early in the standoff.