Will The Oregon Militiamen Ever Be Brought To Justice?

Protesters roam the Malheur National Wildlife headquarters in Burns, Ore., on Sunday, Jan 3, 2016. Armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally o... Protesters roam the Malheur National Wildlife headquarters in Burns, Ore., on Sunday, Jan 3, 2016. Armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally over the prison sentences of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. The decision to send the man back to prison generated controversy and is part of a decades-long dispute between some Westerners and the federal government over the use of public lands. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP) MORE LESS
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It’s been more than a year since the feds walked away from a showdown with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing fees, and so far no federal charges have come against the rogue rancher or any of his armed associates. As a result, many of the same men who stood with Bundy then have become emboldened and have redirected their antics at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon where an unknown number of militiamen remain today.

But experts say those militiamen shouldn’t count on being let off the legal hook so easy. The evidence in this case, experts say, is mounting and regardless of the individual charges, holding armed squatters accountable is a matter of messaging and conviction at this point that the federal government cannot afford to cave on.

“The case in Nevada involved cows roaming on public lands … Let’s just call that one level of wrong,” said Paul Charlton, a former U.S. attorney in Arizona, told TPM. This incident, Charlton says is a whole new level of criminal.

“There are prosecutors who could do this kind of case in their sleep,” Charlton said.

Ammon Bundy – Cliven’s son and the de facto leader of this disjointed group of militiamen — led the group of men who stormed the unoccupied federal wildlife refuge Jan. 2. In the days since, he and others allegedly used federal government heavy equipment to destroy government fences. He’s proudly appeared on video defending his involvement. Other men at the compound have announced they are rummaging through government documents to “expose” employee abuses against the people. And one Ohio man David Fry has videotaped himself using a Linux flash drive to access government computers. There are also some reports that men associated with the standoff had been intimidating refuge workers and others in the community in the weeks leading up to the incident.

Some of the armed protesters’ actions have been so blatant that law enforcement had little choice but to take action. In a comical move Friday, for example, some of men drove government-issued vehicles into town to buy groceries at the Safeway. One of the men, Kenneth Medenbach, 62, was arrested for unlawful use of a vehicle on the spot.

Evidence abounds, in other words, but authorities have been very deliberate about not provoking a confrontation that might risk escalating the situation.

Troy Eid, a former U.S. attorney in Colorado, warns that charges at this point are secondary to avoiding a violent confrontation like Waco or Ruby Ridge.

“There is no question there has been a violation of several different federal statutes based on what I have heard, but it is important to avoid loss of life or injuries,” Eid told TPM.

Charlton echoed Eid’s caution: “None of these crimes are worthy of people dying over, and that is why the government has been staying at a distance. “

The Guardian reported last week that all and all some of the men at Malheur Wildlife Refuge may have done enough damage so far to qualify for up to 10 years in prison and thousands in legal penalties. The Guardian reported that if someone “’knowingly converts to his use’ property of the federal government, that person could face a fine and a prison sentence of up to 10 years if the value of the property is greater than $1,000.” The Guardian also cites another statute that applies to sites like Malheur “that willful property destruction at protected sanctuaries could yield a six-month prison sentence.”

The refuge is also home to artifacts belonging to a local tribe, which may raise the severity of the occupation even further.

Experts agree that the longer the authorities wait, the more shenanigans the militiamen may engage in and the more evidence they may leave behind making it easier for officials to build a solid case against them once the standoff diffuses.

But regardless of outcome, David Hayes, a former assistant secretary for the Department of Interior, told TPM that the most important thing is to actually bring charges.

“A delay is no one’s friend here,” Hayes says. “I don’t know what these folks will respond to, but I do think it is unfortunate that the DOJ has moved so slowly on the Cliven Bundy situation. It is important to send a message that armed confrontations and armed occupations of federal lands are not acceptable.”

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  1. Well, one guy got nailed for grand theft auto.

    I think this points to two things, though: 1) The abject fear of Democrats over confrontations with the right whether it’s political or criminal; and 2) The lack of value we place on these open lands vs. more expensive to build offices and parks.

    On the first one, the reason no one has been arrested is optics, and that’s it. The Bundys and their coorts stole US property by grazing without permits, then violated court orders to pay the fines, then threatened civilians and federal officers with guns. At the least they trespassed, misappropriated resources, ignored court decrees and committed assault against cops. And we’re afraid the right and FOX and the rest will be mad if we arrest these criminals.

    Then they take over a public park with guns, require anyone entering the public lands have an armed escort, deny American citizens entrance to public buildings, steal government trucks, tear down public fences, remove legally placed safety cameras, and pave roads on public lands. When Occupy occupied public parks they didn’t deny anyone access, just sat there and chanted and used those awful drums. These folks are acting as if they are the government here. It is an insurrection, and they have committed many crimes in doing it.

    Imagine if they did this with a DMV or IRS building, taking over with guns and denying anyone entrance, making people who come in accept armed escorts, ripping out security systems and changing layouts. They’d have been raided a month ago. But this is a public park, and who cares if they pave the land that has archaeological and natural value! It’s not like it’s an office park! With people! Except there are people, and the schools are closed in fear of these criminals.

    And that’s what they are. They’re not terrorists, just criminals. It’s time for a siege, let no one in, no resources in (how the hell did we allow asphalt in?) and starve these criminals out. Don’t raid them, just sit there and deny them an exit. Arrest every one that doesn’t leave within 12 hours of the siege being put in place.

  2. HRC might go get them, right after she’s elected…that’ll give it 3+ years to fade from public consciousness.

    But if you think Obama’s going in there during an election year unless Meal Team Six starts doing something more outrageous than just property crimes, you’re nuts. No way is he giving The Enemy Within a rallying point by sending The Law in there to get in a fire-fight.

    Also, stop calling them “militiamen”. They are domestic terrorists, insurrectionists, petty brigands and seditious criminal trash.

  3. Avatar for lew lew says:

    Sadly, tragically, while they are, by every definition, terrorists, they have the distinct advantage of being white. Is there any sentient being who doubts that if they weren’t, that building would be a smoldering ruin by now?

  4. I’m all for setting up a meeting between these terrorists and their 72 virgins, or whatever else might be waiting for them on the other side.

    And I think they’d agree-- after all, why waste taxpayer dollars prosecuting and imprisoning them when a few bullets (or one drone strike) could do it much more efficiently and cheaper?

    That would be perfect for the ideals of small government.

  5. Avatar for bp bp says:

    Now, if there had been a black “sit-down” or an “Apache-gathering” the Law would have been enforced. But when these guys can come and go and we are told the authorities are playing a shrewd game one has to wonder about “justice in America”.

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