Armed anti-government protesters led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy were acquitted Thursday of federal conspiracy and weapons charges for their role in occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon earlier this year.
Th acquittal of seven defendants in Federal District Court marked a major loss for federal prosecutors and law enforcement in a trial the defendants sought to turn into a pulpit for airing their opposition to U.S. government control over public lands in the West.
Federal prosecutors said the Bundy brothers and several others used threats of violence and force to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The jury ruled otherwise and decided that they were protesting government overreach and were not a public threat.
The jury found all seven defendants not guilty of conspiracy to impede federal officers through intimidation, threats or force. They were also found not guilty of illegal possession of firearms in a federal facility and theft of government property, except for Ryan Bundy.
Supporters of the Bundy’s and their actions thronged the courthouse after the verdict was made. They sang “Hallelujah” and read passages from the U.S. Constitution. One man with an american flag in his hand, rode a horse, named Lady Liberty outside the courthouse.
“We’re so grateful to the jurors who weren’t swayed by the nonsense that was going on,” defendant Shawna Cox told reporters. “God said we weren’t guilty. We weren’t guilty of anything.”
“I knew that what my husband was doing was right, but I was nervous because the judge was controlling the narrative,” Ryan Bundy’s wife, Angela Bundy, told the New York Times in a telephone interview. “But they saw the truth. I am just so grateful they saw it.”
After the decision, drama unfolded as Ammon Bundy’s attorney, Marcus Mumford, was taken down by US Marshals who reportedly used a stun gun on him after the lawyer argued with the judge that his client should be set free. He then spent a brief time in custody.
The Bundy brothers and their father, Cliven Bundy still face assault, conspiracy and other charges in Nevada for a standoff at the Bundy ranch in 2014. Federal agents seized his cattle for his failure to pay grazing fees for his use of public land.
Dozens of people occupied part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns on January 2 after gathering outside for a demonstration supporting Dwight and Steven Hammond, who are ranchers that were convicted of arson and were protesting federal land policies.
Several protesters that took over an unoccupied building on the refuge were armed.
The standoff led to one protester, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot and killed by police, shortly after the Bundy brothers were arrested and damaged parts of the refuge.
The occupation of the wildlife reserve ended on February 11 when the last four occupiers surrendered to authorities.
Seven more occupiers are scheduled to go on trial in February.