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Refuge occupiers hit with new federal charges

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ROB KERR - Ammon Bundy, center, and other leaders of the 41-day national wildlife refuge occupation face new federal charges after an indictment was unsealed Wednesday, March 9.More than two dozen of the armed militants who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days face a handful of new charges in federal court.

A March 5 indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court lists several new charges against 26 people involved in the occupation, including leaders Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne and Jon Ritzheimer. They also were indicted for using a firearm during a crime of violence, a felony that carries a 10-year sentence if convicted.

Not all the charges apply to each of the occupiers. Some face separate charges under the indictment.

The indictment replaces one issued Jan. 26 that charged a handful of the occupiers with conspiracy to impede federal employees.

Shooting was justified

Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and six others were arrested Jan. 26 during a traffic stop on Highway 395 about 20 miles north of Burns as they drove to a meeting in John Day. During the traffic stop, 54-year-old Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot to death by Oregon State Troopers when he refused to surrender and reached for a 9mm semi-automatic handgun in his jacket pocket.

An investigation led by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office said the shooting was justified.

The Bundys and more than a dozen others have been in federal custody for the past six weeks awaiting trial on charges relating to the Jan. 2 takeover and occupation of the wildlife refuge compound about 30 miles south of Burns. Ammon Bundy, Finicum and others stayed at the compound and set up armed guard posts in anticipation of an assault by federal and state law enforcement officers. The assault never came.

During the takeover and occupation, the Friends of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge raised more than $30,000 and gained nearly 800 new members as the incident focused a spotlight on the refuge’s work.

Also indicted Wednesday were the four holdouts — David Fry, Jeff Banta and Sean and Sandy Anderson — who stayed behind after the other militants fled in the night after Ammon Bundy’s arrest. The four made a small camp on a loop road near the refuge’s visitors center, setting up booby traps for law enforcement and pledging to fight anyone who tried to make them leave.

All four surrendered peacefully Feb. 11 after a tense night of negotiations with FBI officials that were broadcast online through a YouTube channel.

The grand jury’s new indictment also includes Internet shock-jock Pete Santilli, who claims he should have been protected by the First Amendment because he was acting as a journalist during the occupation. Prosecutors dispute the claim, saying Santilli used his media credentials as a cover to support the occupation and encourage others to join the fray.

‘Intimidate and coerce

All 26 occupiers face a charge of conspiring with force or intimidation to impede federal employees from doing their jobs, a felony that carries a six-year prison term if convicted.

According to the indictment, Ammon Bundy and others traveled to Harney County in November to “intimidate and coerce the population of Harney County in order to effectuate the goals of the conspiracy,” including brandishing firearms when in Burns and Hines to frighten local citizens and law enforcement.

Kenneth Medenbach of Crescent, Ore., was indicted for allegedly stealing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife truck. He was taken into custody Jan. 15 in the parking lot of a Burns Safeway store after allegedly driving the truck from the wildlife refuge. He was the first occupier arrested in the standoff.

Ritzheimer and Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother, were indicted on charges of stealing government property, including cameras “and related equipment.”

Occupation holdout Sean Anderson was indicted on a charge of using excavation equipment to dig trenches at the refuge’s sensitive archaeological sites considered sacred by the Burns Paiute Tribe. That charge carries a one-year prison sentence if convicted.


Kevin L. Harden is digital media editor for Pamplin Media Group. 503-546-5167. email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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