A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Not guilty: Why the government lost

Written October 28th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
A burst of sunshine in October seemed symbolic of the Portland verdicts.

A burst of sunshine in October seemed symbolic of the Portland verdicts.

A day after seven leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation were acquitted in Portland, some people were still asking, on Facebook, “How is this possible?” and declaring that “Justice was not served.” The answer is simple: The government brought charges that did not fit the facts, and then it could not prove its case.

Oregon’s U.S. attorney, Billy Williams, told the Oregonian after the verdicts, “We still think it’s illegal to take over a public structure on public land at the end of a gun.” Of course that’s illegal. But that’s not what the occupiers did. And that’s why the huge, expensive and time-consuming prosecution failed.

Williams’ comment evokes somebody pointing a gun at employees and ordering them out, taking over their space. Events at the wildlife refuge started on a day in January when no one was there. Throughout the weeks of this protest action, no one pointed a gun at any government employee or anyone else. Some of the people there had guns, sure, and carried them openly. So what? Lots of people in the great American West, even at protest meetings and political rallies, carry guns without being treated as criminals.

The government’s charge was conspiracy to keep federal employees from working. It was based on a Reconstruction Era law to protect Union representatives from being harmed as they worked in the South. The law had no relevance to the events in Harney County in 2016. On top of that, as testimony showed, there was no conspiracy, a term associated with a secret plot to commit a crime. Instead, there was plenty of social media traffic, not exactly the kind of secrecy you associate with a criminal enterprise.

As for keeping the employees from working, the testimony was that their supervisors told them to stay away. The occupiers had lots of other people come and go. They welcomed reporters and other visitors. They gave tours of the refuge buildings. They made it plain they did not intend to hurt anyone. The charge of keeping employees away by force or threat of force was laughable.

The government’s case also was undermined by the revelation that among the alleged “occupiers” were 15 FBI informants. The prosecution made much of the fact that some of the occupiers held firearms practice at the refuge’s boat ramp. Then it developed that the man overseeing that operation was one of those government men.

The government’s case was sunk by its own heavy-handedness. Williams said law enforcement spent close to $12 million, and more than 1,000 FBI agents cycled in and out of the operation in response to the occupation. Talk about overkill. Then it kept the Bundy brothers and some others in jail instead of letting them go free on bail, as the Constitution seems to require. Then it placed unusual restrictions on how the jailed defendants could communicate with their lawyers. No wonder Ammon Bundy described himself as a political prisoner. His treatment sounded not much better than what political prisoners experience in some foreign countries.

The government’s unusually harsh treatment of these defendants was symbolized by the attack in court on defense lawyer Marcus Mumford by U.S. marshals. When he argued with the judge that his client should be released, they wrestled him to the floor and used a stun gun on him. One of the other defendants said marshals threw him against a wall when, as a free man just found innocent, he refused to be handcuffed on the way back to jail to be processed out. Why people found innocent should have to submit to more jail trips is just another puzzle that citizens have a right to have explained.

Last January, these protesters or occupiers should have been talked out of their misguided and quixotic operation at the wildlife refuge. Failing that, they should have been charged with trespassing, and billed for whatever physical damage their occupation caused. Instead the government tried to make an example of them that could have sent them to federal prison for many years, as though they were terrorists. And that’s why the government deserved to lose this prosecution, and why it’s a good thing for freedom and citizens’ rights that it did. (hh)



18 responses to “Not guilty: Why the government lost”

  1. Bob Roberts says:

    Well put. All this hysteria I’ve read linking the verdict to all things from a broken justice system to racist jurors… This is only a case of prosecutorial failure. A failure to pursue appropriate charges, and a failure to execute the case.

  2. Kathy Rogers says:

    The government’s “heavy handedness” in this case illustrates the arrogance that instigates these incidents.

  3. ean says:

    I thought the snipers in the towers were using their scopes to keep an eye on the people coming and going. How a gun works is if you are using the scope to watch someone you are pointing a gun at them. Did you read the case HH?

  4. Tony White says:

    The high-handed tactics of the Federal Government lead me to believe they view themselves as a brown-shirted Fascist mob with unlimited power more than servants of the People and the law. Good for the jury!! The Federal bureaucracy needs to learn some humility in dealing with the People.

  5. Jan Strombeck says:

    Helped me understand, when my first response was, “How could this happen?” What a waste of resources for this trial! Will be interesting to see what happens next.

  6. Al Nyman says:

    Excellent article which reflects the truth. Before you libs get upset, please tell
    us how many occupy Wall Street thugs were prosecuted and they did an enormous amount of damage.

    • Bob Woods says:

      The answer to how many were arrested is, over 700. There was virtually no damage caused. You show how you choose to LIE rather than understand facts, since to deal with facts you have to think. Thinking is not your strong suit.

      There were two convictions. 1 plead guilty to felonious assault, another was tried and convicted, but the jury recommended no jail time. She ended up serving 60 days.

      Read it yourself next time, before acting like a fool.


  7. Bob Woods says:

    You are right about the conspiracy charge. They did not prove it, and it probably wasn’t the right one to use. They also chose to leave off all the “easy” things like trespass, unlawful use of government equipment, breaking & entering, etc. The jury deadlocked on the camera theft. The one that is silly, is the car theft charge that was absolutely clear. That shows that the jury decided to just ignore it.

    While the occupation was a protest in the same form such as the Occupy Wall Street takeover of a park, the fundamental difference was that the Bundy Gang was armed and specifically stated they were prepared to use those arms. They told the Sheriff that their aims included the overthrow of the Federal Government. The called openly for armed militia to come from around the country and participate in the revolt, which was thankfully ignored.

    Undercover agents among a band of armed insurrectionists doesn’t bother me one damn bit. That’s prudent. Several defendants were NOT held in jail. They were released on bond. The judge ruled on bail requests in a thoughtful and prudent manner.

    We will learn more about the altercation after the trial but OPB and other outlets reported immediately that the lawyer participated in an “extremely heated” confrontation the judge. Only a stone cold idiot starts an “extremely heated” argument with any judge, and the Marshals will certainly testify as to what happened at the idiots hearing.

  8. Bundy Boy says:

    The Feds knew they had a wonky case. They decided to keep the Bundy Bros. in the slam w/o bail as the punishment du jour. They may have been acquitted in PDX, but now Bundy Inc. (open carry and all) get to go sit in jail in Nevada, awaiting their next tribulation.

    The Bundy Believers believe they “own” the land. The Bundy Believers believe their “ownership” trumps the rest of the taxpayers who support public land ownership.

    The Bundy Believers believe that ridiculously-low grazing rights fees are too outrageous and that their cattle don’t cause harm to the environment.

    The Bundy Believers are delusional.

    The Bundy Brothers deserve whatever additional downtime they receive in jail.

    • Mel Yeager says:

      As stated in Germany at the beginning of the second world war, “Just wait till they come for you!” The Jewish people believed they could comply with the Nazis and be left alone. 3 million of them were wrong and died one by one and by the hundreds.
      I say beware of our own elected officials.

    • Fred Marsico says:

      1. The ‘Bundy Believers’ never claimed ownership of the land. They disputed the claims by the federal government that it was owned by the BLM/USFWS. There was no legislative act that relinquished the lands to the federal government nor did they waive jurisdiction (civil or criminal) to the federal government.

      2. Nothing in the Malheur case had or has anything to do with grazing rights or permits. That may arise in Nevada but never was an issue here in Oregon.

      3. Calling the protesters and their supporters delusional carries no weight whatsoever.

      4. The trial in Nevada will only be an extension of the trial here in Oregon. The charges against the Bundys will not show anything new.

      5. The ignorant people who slander good people for no apparent reason other than they don’t know all the facts or just follow the government spin are what is wrong with this country.

      Happy Halloween and have a nice day!

  9. hj.anony1 says:

    Where are you now Tarp Man?

    What a circus for start all the way through trial. Sure would be nice to write “through to finish” but this isn’t. Just look at this so called “patriot” group/followers who feel emboldened. They now put forth a claim of being aligned with the Standing Rock Sioux. Now that is a stretch!

    As far as Tarp Man, he is immortalized in martyrdom.

  10. Cathy. says:

    The jury of their peers made the decision. The judge would not even allow the constitution to be read in the court room. The judge had no authority to be the sole judge of the law in this matter. The judge is dependent on the very salary that comes from the people who make the law. It is not conducive to human nature to bite the hand that feeds you. This principle is illustrated in the reactions of Sheriff Ward, Governor Kate Brown, Judge Brown, and many others in this bad situation.

  11. Fred Marsico says:

    It’s really sad that a so-called journalist will ‘report’ such things when it is so obvious that the government was the violent actors and the ones who used firearms against innocent people.

  12. Jo says:

    A good article, not what I expected with all the crap out there. LaVoy Finnicum, “the Bundy Boys” and all the others were defending our rights too.

    Obama has delegated more Federal parks that any other president. It’s about control & mineral rights and anyway you look at it, we the people lose.

    In many western states and involving the Bundy’s and the Hammonds the government has pushed people off their own land in order to secure these lands. In many cases, ranchers throughout the generations worked to get water systems through etc . . . when the government could not push ppl out of an area (like to save the western tortoise-which they did not give a shit about) then they took away water rights, they upped charges ridiculously high on leased grazing right lands to try to push these hold outs off the land. The back burn the Hammonds started to save range land, they reported themselves years before any charges . . . the BLM does burns on federal lands near private ranches without notice to the ranchers & has done lots of damage, even burned cattle. At one point Bundy got a bill for $300,000 in back grazing rights and the next thing you know it was One Million dollars they said he owed, no itemized bills were ever sent to say how they got that amount!

    It’s not just cattle ranches that have been damaged in those areas, often it’s jobs, it has affected whole towns & mining & lumber industries too.

    Why on earth does the federal government prosecute our beef ranchers & then bring in foreign beef?

    We need to stop being a bunch of sheep & stand up for ourselves & others like LaVoy, the Bundy’s & others have done. Look at what they sacrificed to speak for us! They all had families & businesses and the feds have been taking their freedom & keeping them locked up . . . LaVoy gave his life . . . the truck was fired at & hit while he was stopped & telling them out the window to go with them to meet the sheriff, he fell right into their plans to get him to run, when the truck hit the snowbank he got out & away from it to draw fire away from the others, his revolver was left behind like they did when they went to town meetings. The pistol they “found” on him had been stolen 2 years ago, cause you know all Mormon ranchers walk around with stolen guns on them! He never pulled a gun out. While others persecute him for “asking for it” he never threatened anyone, he protected us all with his life.

  13. centrrist says:

    Things in these comments that are both entertaining and frightening
    Belief is the basis of fact
    Evidence is meaningless because someone conspired to alter it
    All pigs are equal, but some are more equal
    Some folks need to leave their small valleys and see the world


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