Armed ‘Militia’ Members Acquitted Following Oregon Occupation

By Kenrya Rankin Oct 28, 2016

On January 2, a group of armed right-wing, mostly-White self-proclaimed militia members took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, located outside Burns, Oregon. Three weeks into the occupation—during which the group enjoyed electricity, heat, mail delivery, wi-fi and almost no interference from law enforcement—eight of their ranks were arrested when they left the refuge and engaged in a shootout with the FBI and Oregon State Police. Other group members continued on at the refuge, bringing the total occupation time to 41 days. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that, in all, 26 people were arrested in the group’s attempt to force the government to give federal land in Harney County, Oregon, to ranchers and farmers. One was killed during the shootout.

Yesterday (October 27), the first seven people to stand trial were all acquitted. Leaders Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and members Jeff Banta, Shawna Cox, David Fry, Kenneth Medenbach and Neil Wampler were found not guilty on the charge of conspiracy to impede federal officers through the use of force, intimidation or threats—a felony that could have netted them each up to six years in prison. Mendenbach was found not guilty on an additional charge of theft of a government-owned truck, and the jury did not reach a verdict on Ryan Bundy’s theft charge. The Bundy brothers are now set to stand trial in Nevada for their 2014 standoff with Bureau of Land Management officers on their Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch. They will soon join their father, Cliven Bundy, who is incarcerated there, awaiting the trial. The next round of defendants is set to be tried in February 2017.

Much has been written the roles White privilege and structural racism played in the occupiers’ ability to not only occupy the refuge mostly unfettered by law enforcement, but to do so with guns. And as Spencer Sunshine wrote for Colorlines after a visit to Harney County during the standoff, the refuge actually sits on lands that historically belonged to the Burns Paiute Tribe and still contains ancestral burial grounds. As tribal chair Charlotte Rodrique said during a press conference in January, “We never gave up our aboriginal rights to the territory, so we as a tribe actually view this as our land, no matter who is living on it. Armed protesters don’t belong here.”

Those same concerns were raised following yesterday’s U.S. District Court decision, especially as news comes that law enforcement officers are removing water protectors from their posts as they say “no” to the Dakota Access Pipeline.