Thursday’s acquittal of seven protesters who occupied Eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year stunned observers, attorneys and reporters, and now raises a question about the potential impact this verdict might have on future legal actions involving other protesters and the leaders, Ammon and Ryan Bundy.
The Malheur episode ostensibly was inspired by government action against two local ranchers who had set fire on federal land and were convicted and after serving time and being released, they were ordered back behind bars.
The Bundy brothers were held because they also face other charges stemming from an armed standoff with federal officers in Nevada back in 2014. That was over grazing rights and access in that state.
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And there is another trial scheduled to begin Feb. 14 in relation to the Malheur occupation, with seven other defendants. How the Thursday verdict might affect that trial remains to be seen.
Published reports have noted that several of the jurors in the Bundy trial came from outside Portland. The standoff was hot news for weeks, and an overview can be seen on Vice News here.
The standoff was big news for 41 days earlier this year. Eventually, charges were filed against 26 people. The Seattle Times noted that 11 of those people entered guilty pleas and charges were dropped against another person.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that officials with at least two environmental groups are alarmed at the verdict, fearing that it opens the door for other actions.
“The failure to hold extremist militants accountable for their armed takeover of public property amplifies the risk to federal, state and local officials who are charged with the management of public property throughout the West,” said Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Erik Molvar, in a statement quoted by the newspaper.
And Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, was quoted by the newspaper stating, “I just didn’t think it was possible that 12 jurors could look at pictures of armed men taking over a federal facility and say that’s not illegal. This jury has just declared open season on federal facilities. People are going to get killed because of this verdict, because this jury has just given militias the green light to go after federal facilities with rifles.”
The Seattle Times story noted that an FBI agent told the court that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent shell casings were found at the refuge after the standoff ended, and at least 30 firearms were seized. However, there were no reports of anyone having been injured at the refuge. One protester, Lavoy Finicum, was fatally shot at a roadblock confrontation several miles north of the refuge.
The verdict was also criticized by anti-gun Democrat Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who said the standoff “did not reflect the Oregon way of respectfully working together to resolve differences.”
That has something of a hollow ring to it considering the gun control legislation she supports that seems to ignore concerns of Oregon gun owners and Second Amendment groups.