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Bundy Trial Dismissed: ‘A Sad Day for America’s Public Lands’

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Gage Skidmore

By John Dougherty

Shock, disappointment and warnings of potential for more armed standoffs over U.S. public lands were among the reactions Monday from two academic experts and a former Oregon county judge to a federal judge's order dismissing the government's criminal charges against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and a fourth man linked to militia groups.


"This is a very sad day for America's public lands," said Peter Walker, a University of Oregon geography professor who studies the social and political environmental aspects of the American West and is writing a book on the Bundy family's conflicts with the federal government.

"Even though this was a procedural decision based on mistakes made by the prosecution, the Bundy family and their supporters will spin it as validation of their ideology," said Walker.

The Revelator published an investigative report in November detailing the Bundy family's far-right Mormon extremism in the family's effort to instigate an armed rebellion to force the federal government off public lands in the West.

On Monday U.S. District Court Judge Gloria M. Navarro dismissed the case against the men in a ruling from the bench in her Las Vegas courtroom. The decision could be appealed by prosecutors. But they would only be able to bring charges again if they won the appeal and the ruling was reversed—and they then got a new indictment from a new grand jury, the New York Times reported.

The four defendants—Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and militia leader Ryan Payne—were charged with threatening a federal officer, carrying and using a firearm, and engaging in conspiracy stemming from a 2014 showdown with federal officers near Bunkerville, Nevada. The government was attempting to remove patriarch Cliven Bundy's cattle from federal land after more than 20 years of trespassing and failing to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees.

Hundreds of Bundy supporters rallied to their call for assistance, many of them armed. Several Bundy supporters pointed high-powered rifles at federal law-enforcement officers who were trying to execute a court order to remove the trespassing cattle from U.S. Bureau of Land Management property northeast of Las Vegas. The government withdrew from the armed confrontation.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with Ryan Payne, later led an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Oregon in January 2016. The armed standoff eventually ended but only after the group's spokesman, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by police after appearing to be reaching for a gun.

Cliven Bundy wasted no time in declaring victory after Navarro's ruling Monday as he walked out of the courtroom a free man for the first time in 700 days.

"My defense is a 15-second defense: I graze my cattle only on Clark County, Nev., land and I have no contract with the federal government," he said according to the Los Angeles Times. "This court has no jurisdiction or authority over this matter. And I've put up with this court in America as a political prisoner for two years."

Bundy's claims were never put to a test in the courtroom because Judge Navarro ruled the prosecution's failure to share evidence with the defense made it impossible for the defendants to receive a fair trial.

Walker said the Bundy religious ideology is drawn from fringe Mormon theologians including W. Cleon Skousen, as well as mainstream church leaders including former Mormon Church President Ezra Taft Benson, who was agriculture secretary in the Eisenhower administration.

The Bundy family, said Walker, believes the U.S. Constitution does not allow the federal government to own land outside of Washington DC and, that under the Second Amendment, citizens have an obligation to force the federal government off public land.

"This court decision will cause every person who agrees with the Bundy ideology to believe they can threaten federal employees on public land with firearms and pay no cost," Walker said. "Every hardworking federal employee on federal public lands now has a huge target painted on their back."

In Burns, Ore., former Harney County Judge Steve Grasty told The Revelator he is "very disappointed" that the case ended before it was presented to a jury. Grasty tangled with Ammon and Ryan Bundy and Ryan Payne when the men led the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County in January 2016.

Grasty said the Bundy family's efforts to trigger an armed insurrection against the federal government in Harney County was a terrorist act that drew overwhelming opposition from most of the rural, ranching community.

"No matter what the outcome of the trial was, I think it would have been beneficial, even to the Bundys, to have gotten all the way through the trial and have all the evidence out in front … and have jurors make a decision," Grasty said.

Betsy Gaines Quammen, an expert on the impact of Mormonism and public lands, said the court ruling "will glorify Cliven Bundy" in the minds of his followers.

"It could well convince his supporters that the Bundy family stands in God's favor," she said. "He has always said that he was waging a religious war and with that rationale, this mistrial makes it appear as if Bundy has heavenly approval."

Quammen wrote a doctoral thesis at Montana State University entitled American Zion: Mormon Perspectives on Landscape, from Zion National Park to the Bundy Family War. She is currently writing a book about Mormon worldview and U.S. public lands called American Zion.

She predicts that the mistrial will provide "momentum to the current agenda of developing federal lands and the push towards privatization."

Quammen said a potential flashpoint in the near future could be related to ongoing litigation to stop President Donald Trump's executive order sharply reducing the size of two national monuments located in southwest Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.

"If there is litigation that puts a 'stay' on national monument reduction, I wouldn't be surprised if guys with guns show up on public lands," she said. "Ranchers have fought on the ground. Dark money has fought in Washington. And public lands are more vulnerable than they have ever been."

Walker said the Bundy family has been very skillful focusing the public's attention on government overreach, while keeping the religious roots of their opposition to the federal government out of public debate.

Their deep ties to extreme Mormon teachings, however, generated widespread media coverage during the Las Vegas trial when Bundy supporters distributed a 200-page manuscript called The Nay Book outlining their philosophy.

The booklet starts with a letter from Bundy posing the document's central question: "What is the constitutional duty of a member of the Lord's church?" Bundy found answers in the scripture that he believed directed and justified him in "defending my rights and my ranch against the federal government's tyrannical" usurpation of his land, The Washington Post reported in December.

"Bundy represented himself as peacefully protesting government overreach. Who wouldn't go along with that?" Walker said. "In reality, he was talking about an armed religious crusade to overthrow the federal government. If he said that honestly, a lot fewer people would support him."

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

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Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

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In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.