USA TODAY US Edition
Refuge standoff defendants in court
The protesters whose armed siege at an Oregon wildlife refuge last winter brought national attention to federal land management practices in the vast expanses of the West are now making their last stand, in a courthouse in Portland.
The trial began this week for protest leader Ammon Bundy and six others charged with conspiring to impede federal land managers through force and intimidation. Five of the defendants also face gun charges.
Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, says the standoff had nothing to do with impeding federal workers and everything to do with demanding federal accountability. He told the jury the takeover of administrative offices at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was an attempt at legally taking title to the land by occupying it for an extended period of time.
Prosecutor Geoffrey Barrow dismisses the claims, saying the men are being tried not for what they believe but for their actions at the refuge, 300 square miles of wind-swept, high desert in rural eastern Oregon. The 42-day protest made national news but had little practical impact, Notre Dame law professor Bruce Huber told USA TODAY. No federal land management agency has announced any sweeping change in policy.
“If anything, officials seem to be using more stern language than before Malheur,” Huber said.
Bundy’s group of self-described patriots took control of the refuge Jan. 2 following a local protest in support of two ranchers sent to prison for starting fires on federal land. Bundy and many ranchers say tough federal restrictions on grazing and other uses threaten their way of life.
“Government is laws, not men,” Elizabeth Sanders, who teaches government at Cornell University, told USA TODAY. “You work to get laws passed, you make a statement with civil disobedience, but you don’t just show up with guns and take what you want. That is not how it works.”
The standoff turned deadly on Jan. 26 when the group’s spokesman, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was fatally shot by state police who stopped Finicum, Bundy and several others at a roadblock.