A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

The Malheur Gang as martyrs?

Written March 11th, 2016 by Hasso Hering


Still jailed in Portland several weeks after their arrests, the Harney County occupiers are experiencing what they should have known before: Rebellion is punished as a crime only if it fails. Still, their treatment so far seems needlessly harsh.

Twenty-six of the occupiers have been indicted. The most serious charge is that they conspired by force and intimidation to prevent federal officers — Malheur National Wildlife Refuge employees — from doing their jobs. I don’t know what the work at this wildlife refuge entails in the middle of winter. But the law is the law, and it calls for such conspirators to be fined or imprisoned for up to six years.

In addition, the 26 are charged with having guns at a federal facility, defined in the law as a building where federal employees work. Presumably the occupiers carried their weapons inside the refuge office. If they had left them outside, that count might not have applied. Having a weapon as part of another crime (the conspiracy count) also carries five years.

The layman might think that intimidating someone by carrying a weapon, and carrying a weapon to intimidate someone, are the same crime. But the indictment counts them separately.

Count 3 alleges that the carrying of firearms during the conspiracy was a “crime of violence,” yet another offense. Nine of the defendants are charged with this one.

One of the occupiers is additionally charged with stealing a refuge truck, a 2012 Ford F-350. In court Friday, he said he was trying to get groceries in Burns, where he was arrested Feb.15, and would have returned the truck (with the groceries) to the refuge.

Two others are also charged with purloining and using government-owned cameras. And finally, one of the last holdouts and a person whose identity has been kept sealed are charged with using “heavy equipment” to dig what I think was a latrine. The indictment says the hole was dug on ground held sacred by the Burns Paiute Tribe.

So, the charges boil down to plotting the takeover, keeping the refuge staff from working, carrying arms, using or borrowing some equipment and digging a hole on government land.

One wonders what would have happened if the refuge manager had walked into his office and said, “Hey guys, fun’s over. I need to work on my budget, so get out of here and let me sit at my computer.” Then, if he had been restrained or harmed in any way, the government would have ample reason to throw the book at the guilty parties.

As it was, the occupiers hurt no one. The only one killed was one of their own, and there’s every indication in the published investigatory material that he provoked his own death.

Which makes me wonder why the defendants have not been released on bail. Or why the judge has agreed with the Justice Department that this is a “complex case,” a designation that cancels the defendants’ right to a speedy trial and thus may keep some of them incarcerated indefinitely, or until the government feels like going to trial.

These people had the loopy idea that their occupation would make the U.S. government relinquish control of federal land. They may be idealists in their own mind, but their reasoning was faulty and their tactics were nuts. Federal policies do need changing on a lot of fronts, but this does not get it done.

Let’s hope the government is smart enough not to make martyrs of the Malheur Gang. (hh)

9 responses to “The Malheur Gang as martyrs?”

  1. Bob Thomas says:

    I totally disagree with your thoughts here, which is funny as I usually agree with you 100%. These guys are criminals, they took over a federal building, used the computers, trashed the place, and were armed to boot. Many of them owe the Government thousands if not millions of dollars for using our land to graze cattle without paying. It is my land as well and theirs and they need to pay for the right to use it. I wonder if they had occupied your former office so you could not carry on with your work if you would feel the same? As to bail, they have thumbed their noses at any form of government Law enforcement so why would a judge think they would return to face the music. I say they are getting exactly what they asked for, even if they didn’t know that would be the result.

  2. Bob Woods says:

    You are so wrong.

    The Sheriff of Harney County made it crystal clear after multiple meetings with these thugs that their intentions were to start an armed overthrow of the federal government. And they were armed – 100% clear and documented. And they said they were prepared to kill law enforcement – 100% clear and documented.

    These are not teenagers making stupid mistakes as they grow into adulthood. The Bundy Gang are outlaws, pure and simple, who choose to live under an 1850’s lifestyle of the west where justice is created at the point of a gun and they are judge and jury

  3. H. R. Richner says:

    Where in our constitution does it say the federal government may control any state’s land, other than the District of Columbia and military requirements, without the permission of the sovereign, i.e. the citizens of the state?

    • centrist says:

      A brief history lesson —
      When the original States became the United States with the ratification of the Constitution, they ceded all claim to vacant land to the Federal government.
      Other lands came under Federal control with the Louisiana purchase, the Alaska purchase, treaties and war. There were no states in these regions. Territories came later.
      Since Texas joined the Union as an independent republic, it retained land ownership. In all other cases, land ownership was retained at the Federal level. Parcels were sold, provided to railroads, homesteaded, etc. What wasn’t transferred, stayed with the Feds.
      I suggest reading Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 for the authority.
      I find it ironic that the Bundy bunch, while claiming to honor the US Constitution, seem to have taken a position held by the anti-Federalists prior to ratification. (In other words, a position inconsistent with the Constitution)

  4. Bill Kapaun says:

    This kind of heavy handed, punitive treatment will at least wake up some citizens.
    Accused murderers get more respect than a few guys on a camp out.

  5. Bob Woods says:

    Article 4 The Congress shall have Power TO DISPOSE OF AND MAKE ALL NEEDFUL RULES AND REGULATIONS RESPECTING THE TERRITORY OR OTHER PROPERTY BELONGING TO THE UNITED STATES; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

    Yo should actually read the Constitution some day. The Bundy Gang only read the parts they liked.

    • Jim Engel says:

      For once Mr Woods, I agree with you statements. JE

    • H. R. Richner says:

      Reading the Article 4 as quoted convinces me that it addresses only territories or other property belonging to the United States, not, in fact the states, once they are established.
      “or of any particular state” means that states have the same rights as the rest of the territories of the USA.

      • centrist says:

        Since SCOTUS validated longstanding practice, your reading is a little late.
        If a State acquired land rights during the transition from Territory, it would be delineated in the Act of Admission.


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