Bundy Supporter Sentenced to 68 Years in Bunkerville Case

July 27, 2017
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by Sarah Childress Senior Reporter

The Bundy family and their supporters wave a U.S. flag during a showdown with the Bureau of Land Management in Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014. (Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via AP)

One of the militia members involved in the armed uprising in Bunkverville, Nevada three years ago has been sentenced to 68 years in prison.

Greg Burleson, a 53-year-old militiaman from Arizona, is the first of 17 defendants to be convicted and sentenced for the 2014 standoff, which galvanized militias and anti-government extremists around the country. Burleson came to Bunkerville to support rancher Cliven Bundy and his family as they resisted an attempt by federal agents to impound the Bundys’ cattle. Burleson was found guilty of eight felony charges, including threatening and assaulting a federal officer.

His arrest followed a controversial FBI sting operation in which agents posed as documentary filmmakers and convinced the Bundys and several supporters, including Burleson, to sit for on-camera interviews. As part of the reporting for the film American Patriot: Inside the Uprising Against the Federal Government, FRONTLINE obtained video and audio recordings of the operation. In the clip below, Burleson is asked what would have happened if federal agents had crossed into a perimeter the militia set up near the Bundys’ ranch. “Dead bodies,” Burleson says. “Literally.”

The footage was used to help convict Burleson, and is part of the sweeping federal case against the other defendants, including Cliven Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan, who are all in prison.

After federal agents backed down at Bunkerville in April 2014, the Bundys and their supporters — many from the so-called “Patriot” movement — hailed their uprising as an historic victory against the government. But the peaceful outcome was also part of federal authorities’ new hands-off approach to volatile anti-government groups, after bloody incidents with similar groups in the 1990s.

With Bunkerville resolved peacefully, agents spent two years building a case against the Bundys and their supporters. As Steve Ellis, then second-in-charge at the federal Bureau of Land Management, told FRONTLINE: “I … knew that, eventually, the wheels of justice would start turning, that that was not the end of it.”

While federal agents were assembling their case, Ammon Bundy continued carrying his family’s message of opposition to the government around the country. In 2016, he led another standoff that drew militia support when he occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The FBI broke up the occupation in about a month, beginning a cascade of criminal charges in Oregon and Nevada against the Bundys and other participants.

But in Oregon last year, Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan and five others were acquitted of conspiracy for their role in Malheur. In a second trial, two supporters were convicted on the conspiracy charge, while two others were convicted on lesser felonies.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight, who led the Oregon prosecutions, attributed the acquittals in part to a general, growing distrust of the federal government. “In the almost two decades that I’ve been handling criminal cases as a prosecutor, it has gotten more difficult with federal law enforcement like FBI agents,” he told FRONTLINE. “Because there seems to be, from our vantage point, more distrust of those institutions.”

In Nevada in April, a federal judge declared a mistrial for four Bundy supporters involved in the uprising at Bunkerville. Those men are currently being retried. However, Burleson, and another participant, Todd Engel, were both convicted of some charges. Engel’s sentencing is set for September.

As for the Bundys, their trial is scheduled to begin one month after the current trial concludes. If convicted, they could face decades behind bars.

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