Ammon Bundy departs after addressing the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016.
Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Jury acquits Oregon militants following armed standoff

This was one of those rare cases in which the alleged crimes played out on television. In January, a group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, seized control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. As we reported at the time, the militia members, led in part by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, controversial rancher Cliven Bundy’s sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.

None of this is in dispute. We all saw what happened. No one has contested these basic details.

Not surprisingly, federal officials weren’t willing to meet the militants’ demands, and nearly six weeks after the controversy erupted, the militia members exited the wildlife refuge, and Ammon and Ryan Bundy, among others, were taken into custody and charged with a variety of crimes.

Yesterday, we learned that the punishment for well-armed men taking over a federal building that doesn’t belong to them is … nothing.
The leaders of an armed group who seized a national wildlife refuge in rural Oregon were acquitted Thursday in the 41-day occupation that brought new attention to a long-running dispute over control of federal lands in the U.S. West.

A jury found brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy not guilty of possessing a firearm in a federal facility and conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 300 miles southeast of Portland where the trial took place.
The federal prosecutor in the case told jurors during his closing argument, “Ladies and gentlemen, this case is not a whodunit.” That was true: we know exactly who seized control of the federal building. We know why. We know when and how. We know that an FBI agent testified during trial that, after the armed occupation ended, officials found 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings in the facility.

The Bundys nevertheless said their armed takeover was an act of civil disobedience, and jurors decided they were not guilty.

And as unexpected as this outcome was, the scene in the courtroom after the acquittal was every bit as strange.

The Bundys persuaded this Oregon jury, but their legal woes aren’t over: as NBC News reported, they’re scheduled to also face charges in Nevada early next year as part of other high-profile armed standoff with federal officials. As the Oregonian reported overnight, this became the basis for a bizarre courtroom scene.
Moments after the Oregon standoff defendants’ acquittals were announced in court Thursday, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer Marcus Mumford stood before the judge, and argued that his client should be released from custody immediately and allowed to walk out of the courtroom a free man. […]

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown told him that there was a U.S. Marshal’s hold on him from a pending federal indictment in Nevada…. Brown told Mumford that she’s releasing Bundy on all federal holds in the Oregon case, but he’ll have to take up any questions about the federal holds from the Nevada case with the U.S. Marshals Service.
Mumford, Bundy’s lawyer, apparently didn’t like the response, so he reportedly began shouting at the judge, insisting that officials don’t have the “authority” to hold his client.

According to the local account, things escalated to the point that U.S. Marshals intervened, wrestled the lawyer to the floor, and took him into custody. Eric Wahlstrom, supervising deputy of the U.S. Marshals Service, told the Oregonian that Mumford “continued to resist,” and a marshal found it necessary to use a Taser.

All of this, of course, happened after the attorney had won his case.

It’s quite a story, isn’t it?