This week, jury deliberations have continued regarding the trial of seven defendants who occupied Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.
The defendants have been indicted of count of conspiracy to impede officers of the U.S. from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats, possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of firearms in relation to a crime of violence, depredation of government property and theft of government property following their standoff with law enforcement authorities in the state. Whilst these charges are very serious, we first must ask how the defendants got to this situation in the first place.
So what exactly has happened?
Earlier this year in January, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon was occupied by militia leader Ammon Bundy and his ‘Citizens for Constitutional Freedom’ group. Bundy, a devout Mormon, believes that divine messages from God have dictated a need for armed opposition against the federal government. At a gathering in a supermarket car park in the nearby town of Burns, Bundy announced to a crowd of about 300 militiamen and other civilians of his intention to occupy the wildlife refuge, disputing the amount of land the federal government of the United States is allowed to own, and justifying his dislike of the establishment through theological dogma.
Okay we get it. He hates the government. But occupying a wildlife refuge?
As strange as it seems in a rural county of a sparsely populated state, it would have been easier for Bundy and his militia to occupy a remote government building rather than a potentially guarded urbanised one, perhaps leading to this curious venue. Indeed, Bundy did notify the county sheriff immediately before his occupation, even going out of his way to contact the electricity supplier to the refuge. The Harney County police department did not immediately react to Bundy’s occupation, but took measures in the surrounding area to ensure no further militias/minutemen would be able to assist him.
Bundy and his crew were in the refuge, law enforcement know about it, now what?
After arriving, Bundy released a demand, wanting the federal government to relinquish control of the Malheur National Forest, with the purpose of getting “the economics here in the county revived”, presumably for logging and other resource extraction. Shortly after, the militia began describing themselves as the ‘Citizens for Constitutional Freedom’. The county sheriff David Ward rejected the demand and asked Bundy’s militia to leave the wildlife refuge immediately, leading to Bundy claiming that Ward ‘didn’t speak for the people of the county’. A couple days later on January 6th, a public meeting was held in the Harney County Fairground with a large attendance. Using a show of hands, the sentiment against the wildlife refuge occupation was unanimous; Bundy and his militia had to go.
So it seems that the sheriff, his police department and the people of Harney County were pissed at what Bundy and his militia have done. Surely just evict them?
This is easier said than done. The dilemma went on for weeks, with various militias rotating in and out of Burns, some for the occupation, others against. The Citizens for Constitutional Change soon found themselves living in a pig-sty, with rat excrement covering the floor and damage done to the facilities of the refuge; in other words, they wrecked the joint. On an excursion away from the refuge to attend a meeting, law enforcement stopped Bundy and his main entourage, before arresting and charging them. The driver of the offending pick-up truck, Robert LaVoy Finicum, drove away leading police on a goose-chase. After a brief gun fight, Finicum was shot and killed. Despite the arrest of the occupation leaders, half a dozen remaining members still occupied the refuge, but they stood down and relinquished control of the building a few weeks later.
Are these guys on trial now? Surely they must be in a lot of trouble!
You betcha. Infact, Bundy and his accomplices are in a heap of trouble. During the first court proceedings, Bundy stated that “(my) only goal from the beginning was to protect freedom for the people”, but that was not good enough for the judge and he was denied bail. The formal trial for Bundy and six other co-defendants started on September 7th, with many of the militiamen stating that their cause was legitimised through the support of politicians and the U.S constitution. Moreover, Bundy himself stated that he had tried to mediate the matter through all legal channels before taking a more unorthodox route through occupying the refuge through a “peaceful demonstration” and a “symbolic act”. The prosecution however, argued that their actions had disrupted the lives not only of federal employees, but also of the residents of Burns, and the surrounding county.
What has the jury said on the matter? When will we find out the outcome?
The jury has already started deliberating on the trial, and it is expected that we will find out the result of the proceedings on Friday, 28th October. There is a possibility that the jury may need more time, in which case the outcome could be delayed until Monday morning. Judging by the anti-militia sentiment exhibited by the townsfolk of the county, a guilty verdict is expected on most charges. The outcome however, may have wider implications for the wider country. Could a not guilty verdict mandate further occupations of federally owned buildings and properties? What happens if Bundy and his militia are found to be culpable? How would vigilante groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Minutemen Project react? All of these scenarios are unforeseen at the current moment, but CrowdH will be ready to report on the case as soon as the verdict is out.
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