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Attorneys say charges against Bundy, others based on 'political speech'

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UPDATE: Federal complaint says group had explosives, planned to 'bring the fight to town'


TRIBUNE PHOTO: ROB KERR - During the early days of the wildlife refuge occupation, Brian Cavalier, left, Ammon Bundy, Shawna Cox and Ryan Payne talked with news reporters about their cause. Cavalier, Bundy, Cox and Payne were in federal court Wednesday to face charges related to the case.Ammon E. Bundy, his older brother Ryan and five other people who led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County for 25 days were in Portland’s U.S. District Court Wednesday afternoon facing conspiracy charges of threatening and impeding federal officers.

Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, Ryan Payne, Brian Cavalier, Joseph O’Shaughnessy and Pete Santilli faced a federal judge in a packed courtroom at Portland’s Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse. Nearly every seat in the courtroom was taken by local and national media reporters.

One by one, each of the defendants came before federal Judge Stacie Beckerman, who told them they had the right to remain silent. The defendants entered not-guilty pleas at Wednesday’s hearing.

Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy are sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose standoff with federal and state law enforcement in 2014 became a flash point for the constitutional patriot movement. Cox, Payne, Cavalier and O’Shaughnessy were among the original people to take control of the wildlife refuge after a protest in Burns.

Santilli is an Internet radio talk show host who joined the group and broadcast every day from the compound or the Silver Cloud Motel in Burns. He was taken into custody outside Burns District Hospital Tuesday evening as he broadcast his show and provided information about the arrests and shootings.

Beckerman set three more hearings for the seven defendants. A detention hearing is planned at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29. A hearing on the prosecution’s evidence is planned Feb. 3. And the defendants will be arraigned during a Feb. 24 hearing.

COURTESY OF MCSO/MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE - Militants in federal court Wednesday in Portland were Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, Ryan Payne, Joseph O'Shaughnessy and Pete Santilli. Jon Ritzheimer is scheduled to appear in Arizona's U.S. District Court.Jon Ritzheimer, who also was part of the original leadership that took over the 13 wildlife refuge compound buildings, faced the same charge in Arizona’s U.S. District Court. He turned himself in Tuesday night to the Peoria, Ariz., police department, in the Phoenix suburb where he lives.

Ritzheimer left the compound to visit his family in Arizona just before the arrests.

The criminal complaint unsealed by Judge Beckerman on Wednesday was based almost entirely on statements the Bundys and the others made to the news media or writings and videos they posted to social media sites.

According to the complaint, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials closed the agency’s district office in Hines because of safety concerns for its 80 employees.

A source told a Harney County deputy that someone inside the group occupying the refuge had explosives, night vision goggles and weapons. The source said the group made it clear “that if they didn't get the fight they wanted out there they would bring the fight to town.”

Part of the complaint includes a section on how Ritzheimer and another unidentified militiaman harassed a federal Bureau of Land Management employee in mid-December in the aisles of the Burns Safeway store. The face-to-face confrontation may have led to more harassment of the BLM employee, who told FBI investigators that she was followed by a white truck from outside the region as she drove through town.

Federal public defender Lisa Hay, representing Ryan Bundy, told Beckerman that the charges against her client were minimal at best. She described the charges as based on political speech that was protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and based on Ryan Bundy’s location.

“Mere presence is not a crime,” Hay told the judge.

Reporter Kevin Harden contributed to this story.