Militia groups and anti-government activists rejoiced at the news that seven defendants charged in the armed occupation earlier this year of a remote federal wildlife refuge in Oregon were acquitted of all charges late Thursday.
The stunning verdict in the high-profile trial has convinced those who see it as their duty to take up arms against what they view as government overreach that their crusade is a just one.
“Tonight we have vindication for the life, fortune and sacred honor we all promised to give and for which many have given already,” Central Oregon Constitutional Guard leader B.J. Soper wrote in a Facebook post, adding that he’d had tears in his eyes all night.
While the Oath Keepers, a so-called patriot group made up of current and former military and law enforcement personnel, criticized the occupiers’ decision to take over a federal building, founder Stewart Rhodes told TPM that the jury’s decision represented “a victory for due process.”
“In the big picture, they’re right,” Stewart Rhodes said of the occupiers in a Friday phone call. “Western lands are being stolen from the American people. It’s not just white ranchers, it’s also the Native Americans too. It’s happening right now at the pipeline. So it’s the entire west.”
The ongoing protest over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which has been carried out largely by Native Americans and environmental activists, appears to be an unlikely new draw for militia members. Rhodes said he’s heard from “plenty of guys who have expressed interest in going up there,” as has at least one of the acquitted Oregon occupiers.
Leaving the federal courthouse in Portland on Thursday to greet a boisterous, tearful crowd of supporters bearing American flags and pocket Constitutions, David Fry, the designated videographer for the makeshift militia, hinted he may head to North Dakota next.
“I might be traveling after this,” Fry said in video captured by Facebook user Dory Dae, when asked if he would join the pipeline protest. “I mean, there’s more federal buildings that need to be occupied” (the clashes between DAPL protesters and police this week that resulted in over 100 arrests took place on private land maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers).
In another video taken by Facebook user John Lamb, Fry again suggested that the U.S. brace for future actions like the armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, which began in January and lasted 41 days.
“You helped us win this battle,” Fry said to the group of supporters embracing outside the courthouse. “But there are a lot more to win.”
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who were acquitted in their roles as ringleaders of the occupation, remain jailed on charges related to the 2014 armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management officers on the family’s Nevada ranch.
In a recording sent from the Multnomah County Jail and shared on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page, Ammon Bundy referred to his acquittal in the case as a “miracle from God” and suggested it bodes well for the Nevada case.
“It was the lord who gave us the advantage,” he said. “He always gives us the advantage if we stay true to him.”
“We must not be afraid when we’re told to act by the lord,” Bundy went on. “We must act and not be afraid.”
The occupiers faced charges of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs through intimidation and threat of force. The Bundy brothers, as well as Fry and another occupier named Jeff Banta, also faced charges for having guns in a federal facility. The four men could have faced more than 20 years in prison if they had been found guilty.