Bundy brothers found not guilty of conspiracy in Oregon militia standoff
The Guardian – Sam Levin/San Francisco & Lauren Dake/Portland – Thursday 27 October 2016
High-profile trial over the armed occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge sparked a national debate about the rights of ranchers in the American west.
A jury has found that brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy were not guilty of conspiring against the government, a surprising end to the high-profile Oregon standoff trial that sparked national debates about public lands and the rights of ranchers in the American west.
The decision, unveiled in federal court in Portland on Thursday, is a blow to the US government, which had aggressively prosecuted the rightwing activists who led an armed takeover of public property to protest American land-use regulations.
The Bundy brothers, who orchestrated a 2 January takeover of the Malheur national wildlife refuge, were acquitted on a number of serious charges, along with five other defendants. Only a day earlier the court dismissed a juror over fears of bias, raising concerns that the trial would drag on for weeks.
“We are just so excited,” Angie Bundy, Ryan’s wife, told the Guardian after the verdict was announced. “We’ve been praying hard, and we knew they hadn’t done anything wrong.”
In a statement, federal officials said they accepted the decision. “Although we are extremely disappointed in the verdict, we respect the court and the role of the jury in the American judicial system,” said Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon.
The Bundy family’s public fight with the government began in 2014 when the patriarch Cliven, now 70, led an armed standoff with hundreds of supporters against law enforcement officials at his desert ranch in Nevada, over his refusal to pay grazing taxes. For decades, Cliven claimed that the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had no authority to restrict his use of public lands by his property.
The dispute and lack of prosecution galvanized ultra-conservative activists and militia groups across the west, and the Bundys launched a second fight with the BLM in January 2016 – in a remote part of eastern Oregon.
In response to the imprisonment of two Harney County ranchers, who were prosecuted for arson, Ammon and Ryan led a group of activists in an occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge, an obscure sanctuary for birds.
Ammon declared that he and other protesters, some who openly carried firearms and took over government buildings and equipment, would stay until the ranchers were freed and the refuge land was given to locals to control.
The tense standoff dragged on for 41 days, and police eventually carried out mass arrests and killed one of the leaders, LaVoy Finicum, in a roadside confrontation.
Prosecutors charged the Bundy brothers and 24 other defendants with conspiracy to impede officers through use of force, intimidation or threats, and some also faced additional charges of firearm possession and theft of public property.
Some of the defendants signed plea deals in hopes of getting shorter prison sentences, and a total of seven defendants have been on trial since September.
Posted by Teri PerticoneShare