Another dramatic turn in the Malheur Bird Sanctuary occupation saga when a jury found all seven defendants in the armed occupation of the Malheur Bird Sanctuary not guilty of conspiracy and firearms charges on Thursday. The defendants included brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, Jeff Banta, David Fry, Kenneth Medenbach, and Neil Wampler.
According to OPB reporter Amelia Templeton:
“It was a pretty jaw-dropping verdict. The jury began by reading out the verdict for Ammon Bundy, ostensibly the leader of the occupation, and when we heard that Ammon Bundy was not guilty, it became clear very quickly that likely no one in the case was going to be found guilty, and indeed, everyone has been acquitted.”
Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on Ryan Bundy’s theft of government property charge.
Ammon rejoiced by quoting Martin Luther King Jr., an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience in order to spur on the civil rights movement.
— Ammon Bundy (@Ammon_Bundy) October 27, 2016
Outside the courthouse, supporters celebrated by shouting “Hallelujah” and reading passages from the U.S. Constitution. One man road his horse, named Lady Liberty, in front of the courthouse carrying an American flag. Meanwhile, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, was tackled to the floor by U.S. marshals. The marshals used a stun gun on him several times before arresting him.
Mumford wanted Ammon to be released immediately. However, Ammon will be transferred to Nevada where he will stand trial for the Bunkerville standoff, the armed standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch. Matt Schindler, the attorney for Kenneth Medenbach, explained:
“There’s a hold for Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy out of the district of Nevada. There’s nothing Judge Brown can do about that. So acquitting him here, all it does is effectively release him to that hold, to be transported to Nevada. And the court that has anything authority to deal with that, is the court in Nevada. Marcus let the emotion of the moment, I think, overtake his better judgement.”
Concern about the ramifications of the acquittals is widespread. During the trial, the defendants’ lawyers cast the 41-day occupation of the refuge as a legitimate and patriotic act of civil disobedience. Michelle Fiore, a Nevada State Representative who testified in the trial, said:
“The verdict shows that Americans need to stand up to unlawful behavior by federal employees.”
Fiore’s statement echos what many fear will be a fallout of the trial for years to com. Only yesterday former Congressman Joe Walsh threatened armed insurrection if Trump loses. Federal prosecutors presented a display of 30 guns seized after the standoff. An FBI agent testified that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings were found.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity called the acquittals “extremely disturbing” for:
“anyone who cares about America’s public lands, the rights of native people and their heritage, and a political system that refuses to be bullied by violence and racism. The Bundy clan and their followers peddle a dangerous brand of radicalism aimed at taking over lands owned by all of us. I worry this verdict only emboldens the kind of intimidation and right-wing violence that underpins their movement.”
Mark Pitcavage, an expert on right wing extremism, shared Suckling’s concern on Twitter.
— Mark Pitcavage (@egavactip) October 28, 2016
Several Twitter users shared his concern.
#oregonstandoff. Dear Jury, the next McVeigh is on you. You just gave carte blanche to every armed nutjob with a complaint. Sleep well. ?
— BevMarie (@evenbev) October 28, 2016
The general consensus on social media regarding the verdict is that this is simply the power of white privilege writ large.
Tamir Rice was murdered for having a toy gun.
White men did an armed take over of a FEDERAL building and are acquitted. #oregonstandoff
— Brotha B (@BlakeDontCrack) October 28, 2016
— Victoria Brownworth (@VABVOX) October 28, 2016
More immediately, the acquittals seem to bode well for the Bundys in terms of the Bunkerville trials. Daniel Hill, who will represent Ammon Bundy in Nevada, said:
“When the jury here hears the whole story, I expect the same result.”
Initially, 26 occupiers were charged with conspiracy. Eleven pleaded guilty. However, Jerry Delemus, one of those eleven, has already withdrawn his guilty plea in the wake of the acquittals.
While there is concern about the ramifications of the verdict, the Executive Director of Center for Western Priorities, Jennifer Rokala, issued the following statement:
“We are deeply disappointed in today’s verdict, which puts our park rangers and scientists at further risk just for doing their jobs. The outcome of today’s trial will undoubtedly embolden extremist groups. It’s imperative that local, state, and federal law enforcement ensure the safety of our land managers.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that no member of the Bundy family walked free after today’s verdict. The most serious charges are still pending in Nevada, in a separate case with much more evidence than was allowed at the trial in Oregon. We look forward to justice being served in that case next year.”
In addition to the hope Rokala has for the trial in Nevada, seven other defendants are still waiting to be tried in Oregon. They chose not to be tried at this time, and their trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 14.