Juror: Acquittal not endorsement of occupiers
The stunning acquittal of seven people who occupied a federal wildlife sanctuary in Oregon was a rejection of the prosecution’s conspiracy case, not an endorsement of the defendants’ actions in the armed protest, a juror said Friday.
But sympathizers who believe such resistance to the government is justified could feel emboldened by the verdict, which might invite more confrontations in a long-running dispute over Western lands.
Worried that Thursday’s verdict could lead to more land takeovers, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday urged all government employees to “remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.” In a statement, she said she was “profoundly disappointed” in the jury’s decision.
William C. Fisher, an activist from Boise, Idaho, who once camped by a memorial to occupier LaVoy Finicum at the site where he was shot dead by police, predicted that the verdict would encourage others to act.
“I think a lot more people will be revolting, rebelling and standing up against what we see as a tyrannical government,” Fisher said in a telephone interview.
The 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last January in remote eastern Oregon was part of a larger debate about the use of federal lands in the West. The militants led by Ammon Bundy, a small business owner from Arizona, wanted to hand the refuge over to local officials, saying the federal government should not have dominion over it.
The U.S. government owns nearly half of all land in the West, compared with only 4 percent in the other states, according to the Congressional Overview of Federal Land Ownership.
One of the jurors in the case asserted Friday that the panel was not endorsing militancy to resolve those issues.
The juror, identified only as No. 4, wrote in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive that the verdicts were a “statement” about the prosecution’s failure to prove a conspiracy charge “and not any form of affirmation of the defense’s various beliefs, actions or aspirations.”