An Arizona man who showed up to the 2014 standoff in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management and rancher Cliven Bundy was sentenced today to 68 years in federal prison. Gregory Burleson, reportedly a member of a militia group, showed up to the standoff armed and was arrested after making threats.
The 2014 standoff began over grazing rights. Cliven Bundy had been grazing cattle on public land. The BLM came to Bunkerville, NV, to arrest Bundy, but hundreds of protestors showed up to defend Bundy and his family.
“Yes, I was down in the wash. I went down there with the intention to see what was going on,” Burleson explained during the sentencing hearing Wednesday. “I did not go down there with the intention of assaulting or killing anyone.”
This statement contradicts some of his earlier statements. When an undercover FBI agent, posing as a documentary film maker, asked him why he was there, Burleson said, “I was hell bent on killing federal agents that had turned their back on we the people.”
After the standoff, Burleson, took to social media and continued to post anti-government messages. “Yes, I said a lot of crazy things. I’m ashamed of them actually,” he told U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro. “Looking back at them, it’s like, ‘wow, obviously I shouldn’t drink.’”
The reference to drinking was part of his defense. Burleson says Federal agents gave him alcohol before the interview.
The judge in the case handed down a purposefully harsh sentence. Judge Navarro acknowledged that no shots were fired, but added that “in some ways a physical injury is better than a mental injury because it scabs, it heals.”
During the trial, the government presented a parade of witnesses. As the Las Vegas Review Journal reports, “prosecutors called numerous law enforcement witnesses to testify about their fear on the day of the April 12, 2014, standoff, as well as the lasting psychological effects of the event. The night before the standoff, Navarro said, one law enforcement agent had to dig a foxhole and sleep in the ground because federal intelligence suggested the hotel where they were staying may be targeted by protesters.”
Burleson was found guilty of assault, threats, extortion, obstruction of justice, and gun charges. His sentence is meant as a warning. In addition to the time served, he’s been ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution.
“It’s not going to change everyone’s mind, but they’re going to think twice about doing that because they’re going to know there are consequences to those actions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson said. The message seems clear enough. There may be more productive ways to protest, if that’s all it is.