PORTLAND, Ore. — The trial of Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and five others who occupied a national bird sanctuary in rural Oregon has hit the one-month mark.
The federal courthouse in Portland — 300 miles northwest of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — has been on heightened security since jury selection began Sept. 7. An unusually large amount of spectators and small daily protests, including the occasional man on horseback, have added spice to the normally buttoned up building.
Here’s a recap of the trial so far and what led to it:
THE START: ARSON CONVICTIONS
Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son, were convicted in 2012 of setting fires on public lands, an arson crime that carries a minimum prison sentence of five years. A sympathetic federal judge, on his last day before retirement, decided the penalty was too stiff and gave the men much lighter prison terms. Prosecutors won an appeal and the Hammonds were resentenced in October 2015 to serve the mandatory minimum. They reported to a Southern California prison on Jan. 4, 2016.
AMMON BUNDY TRIES TO HELP RANCHERS
Ammon Bundy, of Emmett, Idaho, and another out-of-state activist, Ryan Payne, arrived in Oregon in November 2015 with a message for Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: Protect the Hammonds from returning to prison or face civil unrest. Bundy reminded the sheriff of his family’s 2014 victory near Bunkerville, Nevada, when hundreds of protesters stopped federal agents from completing a court order and seizing his father’s cattle. The sheriff looked into the Hammond case, determined it was not “double jeopardy” and opted not to interfere with federal courts.
RALLY ONLY GOES SO FAR
Bundy continued pressing the issue in November and December. He and other supporters of the Hammonds planned a Jan. 2 rally in Harney County, but Bundy figured a rally alone won’t change anything — a “hard stand” was necessary. After the rally, he and his followers occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, near the Hammond ranch.
The armed occupiers changed the refuge’s name to the Harney County Resource Center, reflecting their belief that the federal government has only a very limited right to own property within a state’s borders. Bundy was arrested during a Jan. 26 traffic stop, effectively ending the protest. Another key occupier, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was fatally shot that day by Oregon State Police. Four holdouts remained on the refuge until Feb. 11
MORE THAN TWO DOZEN CHARGED
Authorities charged 26 people with conspiring to impede officers from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from doing their jobs at the refuge, through the use of force, threats or intimidation. Some also faced theft and firearms charges. Eleven pleaded guilty, and another had the charge dropped. Of the 14 remaining defendants, half are on trial now and the other seven are scheduled to be tried in February.
THE PROSECUTION RESTS
Federal prosecutors Ethan Knight, Geoffrey Barrow and Craig Gabriel took two weeks to present their case to jurors, finishing with a display of more than 30 guns seized after the standoff. An FBI agent testified that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings were found at the refuge. Sheriff Ward testified about his meetings with Bundy and what he perceived as ultimatums if he did not bow to his call to protect the Hammonds. The manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge said he told his employees to stay home rather than confront armed strangers.
Bundy took the stand in his own defense Oct. 4, and spent much of the next three days amplifying his belief that federal government overreach is destroying Western communities that rely on ranching, mining and logging. Besides bringing national attention to the Hammond case, Bundy said the plan was to take ownership of the refuge by means of adverse possession — a way to gain title to land by occupying it for a period of time — and then turn it over to locals for use as they see fit. In denying a conspiracy, he said impeding federal workers was never a consideration. As for the firearms, Bundy testified the occupiers would have been immediately arrested if they were unarmed and nothing would have been accomplished.
The trial resumes Tuesday. Though U.S. District Judge Anna Brown cleared her calendar until Thanksgiving, it appears the verdict will come before Halloween. It’s unclear how many of the remaining defendants plan to testify. Ryan Bundy, who’s serving as his own lawyer, told the judge he’s leaning against it. If he does testify, another lawyer will pose the questions. The judge said it would be hard for jurors to keep a straight face if Ryan Bundy asked his own questions and then answered them.