In a verdict no one saw coming, seven defendants of the 41-day armed occupation of the Masher National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon were found not guilty.
These defendants receiving a not guilty verdict will likely have major implications. It will “have huge implications on the militia movement as well as the federal government’s control of millions of acres of public lands in the West,” as NPR reported.
It’s likely this verdict will open up the door to other similar situations becoming a more common occurrence.
“This was a national wildlife refuge that was taken over essentially in an act of domestic terrorism,” said retired federal land manager Joan Anzelmo. “With arms, and terrorizing the town, threatening the citizens, threatening the employees.”
The defendants were acquitted of the main charge of conspiring to impede federal employees from doing their jobs. The jury returned with the verdict after only six hour of deliberations, the trial itself lasted six weeks.
Brothers and defendants Ammon and Ryan Bundy were the alleged leaders of the movement. Their fight against the government was because of a dispute with unpaid fees for the grazing of cattle on federal land.
“Federal prosecutors had argued the Bundys and their militia conspired to keep federal workers from doing their jobs at the refuge, through threats and intimidation,” NPR reported. “But defense attorneys claimed they were exercising their First and Second Amendment rights in a protest over the federal government’s control of public land in the West.”
Though some of the charges have been dismissed, the defendants still face other charges after their occupation which resulted in police shooting and killing one of the militants during the 41-day standoff.
Though the Bundy’s have escaped these charges, they will remain in custody and face similar charges for another armed standoff that occurred in 2014 at their father’s ranch in Nevada.
Ammon Bundy’s lawyer Marcus Mumford entered into an argument with the judge after finding out his client wouldn’t go free. Mumford continued to press the issue, raising his voice and was eventually tackled by U.S. marshals and taken from the room.
There are still others set to go on trial in February from the armed occupation, while others have already pleaded guilty.
“With the way the country is right now, this is going to embolden militia types, who, if they don’t like something, they’ll take up their arms,” said a concerned Anzelmo. “And, you know, laws be damned. It is a terrible, terrible day for the United States.”