The Bundys: A surprising acquittal in Oregon
The dividing line between “civil disobedience and armed insurrection” has just been blurred beyond all recognition, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an editorial. A jury in Oregon last week stunned the nation by acquitting seven anti-government activists, led by militiamen Ammon and Ryan Bundy, of federal conspiracy and weapons charges in the 41-day seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. After the siege, investigators found 15,000 rounds of ammunition—“there’s no question preparations were underway for a gun battle.” Eleven of the protesters pleaded guilty to lesser charges. But the jury managed to construe a takeover of federal land by heavily armed men “as the exercise of First and Second Amendment rights under the Constitution.” The verdict could very well embolden far-right supporters of Donald Trump who have threatened violence if Hillary Clinton wins a “rigged” election. “A troubling new day has dawned in America.”
The prosecution botched this case by overcharging, said Dan McLaughlin in NationalReview.com. Though the activists’ cause—excessive federal ownership of land in the West—“should engender some sympathy,” they should have faced consequences for their actions. But instead of going for easier-to-prove, lesser charges—such as criminal trespass or interfering with law enforcement—the government decided to “swing for the fences” and charge the defendants with “criminal conspiracy” to intimidate federal employees. But jurors ultimately decided that the government failed to reach the high bar of proof for that charge, which includes intent. When prosecutors try “to make a political statement,” they often fall short.
We shouldn’t be surprised at the verdict, said Jake Flanagin in Qz.com. The Bundys are “white and male, and enjoy the privilege that entails.” By contrast, consider the Standing Rock Sioux tribe members protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Native Americans say threatens their water supply and infringes on treaty-protected land sacred to them. The day after the Oregon verdict, 141 activists were arrested in North Dakota as officers “flooded the area with helicopters and Humvees” and subdued people with pepper spray. Imagine instead that the Bundys were “heavily armed Black Lives Matter protesters,” said Shaun King in the New York Daily News. Or armed Muslim American students protesting the discrimination they face nearly every day. They’d very likely “be taken to Gitmo.”