Competing protests

On Oct. 27 the brothers Bundy—Ammon and Ryan—and five co-defendants were acquitted in Oregon federal court of all charges stemming from their protest occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

In what appears to be jury nullification, the jurors felt the federal government had simply not proven their charges of conspiracy to intimidate federal workers to prevent them from performing their duties with weapons brought onto federal property. The Bundy party did occupy the refuge, and they did have weapons. The reason the jury acquitted was the arrogance of the federal government in overcharging them. If the government had presented the jury with a simple trespass charge, punishable by up to a year in prison, the jury probably would have convicted.

The federal prosecutors stated during trial that the Bundys had a perfect right to protest federal policies, but then labeled that protest a criminal conspiracy. The reason, jurors felt, was to increase the penalty for convictions from a misdemeanor trespass of up to a year in prison to a felony conspiracy carrying up to six years. That, the jury—to their credit—would not go along with.

It was a stunning defeat for the feds, who rarely lose a high-profile trial in federal court, and can usually pin a conspiracy charge on Mother Teresa and the Pope and win.

During this illegal commandeering of a Keurig coffee machine in the maintenance shack on the wildlife preserve, the Bundys invited other ranchers to join. At the trial, it was revealed that at least 15 of those who came to “help” were federal informants.

For the crime of protesting while armed, 54-year-old Arizona rancher La Voy Finicum was shot dead on a snowy Oregon roadside. The protesters regularly left the wildlife refuge to talk to the locals to discuss their cause. On Jan. 26, 2016 Oregon State Police and the FBI broke an informal agreement with Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer and decided to stop and arrest them. Separate videos confirm Finicum’s vehicle, which also contained Ryan Bundy and two female supporters, was forced off the road.

Finicum was upset and shouted he was leaving the vehicle, was going to see the sheriff, and if they wanted to shoot him they could just go ahead. He stepped out of the vehicle and was soon killed by police gunfire. The police said he reached for a gun, and the videos show he reached for something, but after he was shot. A terrified Ryan and the two women somehow survived by lying flat on the back seat floor of the SUV as more shots were fired at their vehicle.

Next, the Bundys face charges in Nevada relating to the original standoff over the BLM’s attempt to seize their cattle for unpaid grazing fees. There was an argument in court over whether those acquitted should be allowed to return home, and a Bundy defense attorney was tasered. A perfect right to protest, indeed!

Meanwhile, in Cannonball, North Dakota, the Lakota Standing Rock Tribe is protesting an oil pipeline through land claimed by treaty. If only the left and right local rural power protesters could become allies! Most of the animus comes from the progressives who dislike the Bundys and the Western public lands movement. Constitutional conservatives want energy development but generally support the Native Americans in their disputes over federal encroachment. Getting the two sides together to focus on their common causes is like getting Donald Trump to stay focused on the issues instead of personal slights. The enemy of my enemy should be my friend.