Thomas Mitchell

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.

Not since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shared the same body has one man been seen in such startlingly contrasting lights.

That man is Cliven Bundy, the Bunkerville rancher whose armed supporters two years ago faced down federal land agents until they relented and released his impounded cattle. He and 18 others, including four of his sons, are now in jail facing a litany of charges growing out of that confrontation — including obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers.

To read the prosecutor’s motion asking that Bundy be jailed without bail until his as-yet-unscheduled trial, you’d think he is evil incarnate bent on loosing havoc and destruction upon the land. A judge agreed.

To read his attorney’s motion asking that he be released pending trial, you’d think he is eligible for sainthood. The motion has yet to be heard.

“Bundy is lawless and violent. He does not recognize federal courts — claiming they are illegitimate — does not recognize federal law, refuses to obey federal court orders, has already used force and violence against federal law enforcement officers while they were enforcing federal court orders, nearly causing catastrophic loss of life or injury to others,” prosecutors argue, adding, “In fact, all the evidence suggests that Bundy will continue to act lawlessly, will not abide by court orders, and will use violence to ensure that federal laws are not enforced as to him.”

But attorney Joel Hansen calls Bundy a political prisoner in the same vein as South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.

“The government is trying Cliven Bundy in these motions, rather than before a jury of his peers. The government is holding Mr. Bundy in solitary confinement, a man who has never hurt a fly,” Hansen writes. “The government seems to be afraid that it might lose in a jury trial, so it wants to keep him in prison, in solitary confinement, as long as it can, because he, like Nelson Mandela, is a political prisoner…. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution allowing the federal government to hold political prisoners without a trial.

Hansen based his political prisoner allegations on the fact Bundy is accused by the government of having “strong anti-federal government views” and that his views are not “principled.”

“Mr. Bundy, in studying the US Constitution, found in the First Amendment that he had freedom of speech and that the government can’t take that away,” Hansen blusters. “And where in all of Anglo-American or Constitutional law is it held that someone’s views must, in the government’s opinion, be ‘principled?’ Are we now in a fascist state where one’s opinions must be, in the opinion of the government, ‘principled?’ This is dangerous talk, to say the least.”

Hansen states that under the Bail Reform Act the government must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that Bundy poses a danger to the community or it must prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” that he is a flight risk — noting that Bundy has not gone anywhere for two years.

He also recalls that Bundy was never at the “scene of any confrontation, never brandished a weapon, was never armed with any firearm, never directed anyone to assault a federal officer, and never assaulted anyone or committed any battery in his life.”

That contrasts somewhat with what prosecutors report Bundy said in an online interview shortly after the armed standoff.

“Bundy expressed dismay that the BLM officers were allowed to leave with their weapons on April 12: ‘we haven’t won the war, we’ve just won one chapter of it, ’” the detention motion states. “Bundy’s characterization of the assault as part of a larger ‘war’ makes clear that his efforts to thwart and interfere with BLM law enforcement officers would carry on.”

The government says that “Bundy is a danger to the community and poses a risk of non-appearance. Bundy cannot overcome the presumption that he should be detained and no conditions or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of others or his appearance at future proceedings,” even though Bundy’s attorney says he would agree to any travel, firearm or GPS tracking restrictions the government would impose in return for being set free.

“Cliven Bundy is about as likely to hurt someone or to flee Nevada as a desert tortoise,” Hansen attests. “It just isn’t going to happen.”

Who is Cliven Bundy? Depends on who you ask.