The rightwing occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge unravelled after police arrested protest leader Ammon Bundy and four other key members of the anti-government militia.
On the 41st day of the standoff, the final four occupiers surrendered, and federal prosecutors announced that they had filed felony charges against a total of 25 people associated with the armed occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge.
The group of 23 men and two women – who are all faced the same federal charge of conspiracy to impede officers through “force, intimidation and threats” – hailed from 10 states across the US and had a wide range of prior involvement in conservative activism and criminal activity. The Guardian – story by Sam Levin, February 15, 2016 carried the story about each of those arrested.
The trials for seven militants, including Ammon Bundy, started on September 7, 2016; while a further seven militants were set for trial beginning February 14, 2017. Charges against the remaining indicted militant, Peter Santilli, were dropped (but he still faces charges in Nevada related to the 2014 Bundy standoff). On August 3, about 1,500 potential jurors were summoned and asked to complete questionnaires that would be reviewed by the attorneys and parties involved in the September 7, 2016, trials. Those on trial were Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, 43, of Cedar City, Utah; Shawna Cox, 60, of Kanab, Utah; David Lee Fry, 28, of Cincinnati, Ohio; Jeff Wayne Banta, 47, of Elko, Nevada; Neil Wampler, 68, of Los Osos, California; and Kenneth Medenbach, 63, of Crescent, Oregon.
Judge Brown previously said the case would require an unusually large jury pool. The defense focused on the argument that the federal government doesn’t actually have jurisdiction of federal land, as they lost the right to own the land inside of Oregon once it became a state. By August 2016, twelve militants pleaded guilty for charges against them, including four of nine militants who were part of Bundy’s “inner circle.” Of those four, two were reported to be negotiating a resolution to a federal indictment in regards to the Bundy standoff.
Q&A: What to Know About the Oregon Standoff Verdicts
By The Associated Press Portland, Oregon
Oct 28, 2016
The surprising decision to acquit the leaders of an armed group that took over a national wildlife refuge in Oregon has prompted praise and criticism. Here’s a recap of what happened and the reaction.
WHAT WAS THE VERDICT?
Jurors exonerated brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five others Thursday on charges stemming from their six-week armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge in rural Oregon. They had been accused of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs. The Bundy group says they were exercising their constitutional rights to protest what they believe are onerous federal land use policies.
WHAT WAS THE JURORS’ REASONING?
The names of the jurors are not public but one emailed a Portland, Oregon, newspaper to say the prosecution failed to prove the fundamental elements of a conspiracy charge. In his message to The Oregonian/OregonLive, Juror No. 4 said the panel spoke with U.S. District Judge Anna Brown after the verdict and asked why the federal government chose the conspiracy charge. The juror said he learned a possible alternate charge, criminal trespass, wouldn’t have brought as serious a potential penalty. The juror wrote he is baffled by the negative response from observers shocked by the acquittals, saying “don’t they know that ‘not guilty’ does not mean innocent.” He says the jurors were aware their verdict might inspire future lawbreaking, but they had to focus on the charge before them.
WHAT DO EXPERTS SAY?
Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former federal prosecutor, said the way the federal government handled the occupation precluded them from charging the wildlife occupiers with assault on a federal officer with a deadly weapon. When the occupiers took over the Oregon refuge, law enforcement closed the roads and stayed miles away while attempting to get them to leave by sending in the sheriff or communicating by phone. Part of the reasoning was to avoid a violent and potentially deadly confrontation. “This may be a case of no good deed goes unpunished,” Levenson said. “The upside of not confronting them was it was less likely there would be violence. The downside was it was less likely that they could use the assault charge.” Levenson said criminal trespass is only a misdemeanor and prosecutors opted to try to secure felony convictions. Levenson said this case may prompt Congress to consider toughening those laws.
WHAT DO FEDERAL OFFICIALS SAY?
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she’s “profoundly disappointed” by the decision. In a message Friday to all Interior Department employees, Jewell says she’s concerned about the verdict’s potential effect on workers and on the effective management of public lands. She encourages employees to take care of themselves and their co-workers, stay vigilant and report any suspicious activity to supervisors and, if appropriate, law enforcement. Jewell’s message notes that she visited the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after the occupation and found it disheartening to survey the damage. The occupiers contend they improved the refuge, and law enforcement caused damage during the investigation.
WHAT DO THE ACTIVISTS SAY?
William C. Fisher, an activist from Boise, Idaho, said the acquittals will embolden others. This summer, Fisher camped by a memorial to refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum at the spot where Finicum was shot and killed by authorities after he fled a traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of Ammon Bundy and others. Fisher said the acquittals will “give people hope, that they can stand up and protest peacefully.” He said he considers the armed takeover at the wildlife refuge as peaceful because the occupiers did not use violence.
With all the drama surrounding this election, the drama from the Oregon standoff got pushed out of the limelight. Yet, at the time it was quite the news item. It looks like the standoff has finally ended far more quietly than it began, except for a few interested news reporters. Hopefully now the community can heal and get back to normal living.
I am not sure I agreed with all that the group did. I definitely did not agree with the handling of the murder of the member of the group, Finicum. However for those men and lady who were acquitted, I am thankful to see an end to the episode and that it did not turn into another Waco incident.
WND ran an article in January 2016 titled “Oregon shootout rooted in Clinton uranium trade? ” which questioned the possible connection between the Clinton’s, Uranium One, and the location of this refuge standoff. They included information from Jon Rappoport on the topic.
Jon Rappoport wrote in his blog that he questioned a U.S. Bureau of Land Management notation that’s titled, “Uranium on BLM-Administered Lands in OR/WA,” that talks about a May 2012 presentation from Oregon Energy LLC to develop a uranium oxide mine, in concert with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, in “southern Malheur County in southeastern Oregon” as one reason for the rancher’s problems. The blog went on to cite other information and articles that might give rise to this as a possibility for the treatment of the Hammonds and their ranch including the Clintons and Uranium One link.
Conspiracy or not, that area had seen mining surveys which supported possible valuable minerals and uranium deposits were in the refuge area. The ranch in question was also being allegedly bullied by BLM (with some saying there was evidence to back up the allegation) which for whatever reason had this group of people traveling up there. Though in an article detailing the ranchers’ story, those living in the area said this was not true.
Steven Hammond and his father, Dwight Hammond Jr. were convicted of arson, but under a provision of an expansive federal law punishing terrorism. They each served prison terms that the sentencing judge thought just, only to be told by appellate judges they had to go back to serve longer. Their case heightened debate about how the federal government runs its lands.
The United States of America holds deed to three-fourths of Harney County. Ranching done for a century and more is under pressure from environmentalists, recreationalists, and hunters. That county was not alone in feeling pressure though. Several counties in several states have felt the pressure once mining surveys are done and mining groups have begun entering the area. Many of the surveys and resulting problems have “Bureau of Land Management” and “government coverup” stamped all over them.