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All defendants found guilty on at least some charges
Denver, Co–WildEarth Guardians today hailed the convictions in the trial of four militants who helped seize control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon in early 2016. Two of the defendants were convicted of conspiracy to use threats, intimidation and force to prevent federal officials from performing their jobs, with one receiving an additional conviction on the charge of possessing a weapon in a federal facility. The other two were convicted of depredation of government property.
This was the second trial over the standoff at the refuge. An earlier trial of a different set of Malheur occupiers, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, resulted in acquittals for the defendants. This time all defendants were found guilty on at least some of the charges brought against them.
“These verdicts bring some measure of justice to what was clearly an illegal takeover of the refuge, despite the results of the first trial,” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “The ultimate goal for these radicals was to steal one of the cornerstones of the American experience—our public lands.”
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a crucial rest stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds and offers resting, breeding and nesting habitat for hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife. Visitors to the refuge bring about $15 million into the local economy each year. Experts have estimated the overall cost of the nearly six-week occupation to taxpayers as $6 million.
Many of the occupiers refused to recognize the refuge as public land and claimed they were attempting to return it to local residents. During the take over several of the occupiers used government equipment to illegally build a new road and trenches adjacent to historic cultural sites containing sensitive artifacts of the Burns Paiute Tribe.
The takeover of the refuge was part of a larger, ongoing effort to seize public lands. In 2014, Cliven Bundy, Ryan and Ammon Bundy’s father, led an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management after the agency attempted to round up Bundy livestock that had been illegally set out to graze on public land. The three Bundys have been charged with numerous felonies for their roles in that standoff, with their trial on those charges set to begin later this year.
The Bundys and their followers reject the authority of the federal government to manage public lands on behalf of the people of the United States. Cliven Bundy has also claimed that the federal courts lack jurisdiction in cases arising over federal public lands.
“Hopefully the verdicts in this case, along with eventual guilty verdicts for the Bundys in Nevada, will show there are serious consequences to using weapons to threaten and intimidate public officials based on a crackpot interpretation of the Constitution,” said Horning.