PORTLAND, Ore. (UPI) — Federal prosecutors opened their criminal case against Ammon Bundy and several followers on Tuesday stemming from the standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge last winter.
In opening arguments, prosecutors said the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge had been planned for weeks and involved Bundy, his brother Ryan and five others — all of whom face charges in the case.
All seven are charged with conspiracy to impede federal land managers through force and intimidation, and five of them also face gun charges.
Bundy’s self-styled “patriot” group seized the refuge for 41 days in January and early February, which at one point escalated and led to the shooting death of one follower, Robert Finicum, during a confrontation with state and federal authorities.
Prosecutors showed video clips in court Tuesday of Bundy during the occupation, pledging to stay at the refuge for a long period of time and draw awareness to what he believed was too much federal government control over public lands.
“They moved as a military force,” assistant U.S. Attorney Geoff Barrow argued.
“We are not prosecuting the defendants because they don’t like the government,” he added. “In Ammon Bundy’s words, ‘This was much more than a protest.’ They were taking a ‘hard stand.”’
Defense attorneys claim the occupation was a peaceful attempt to draw awareness to the issue, but authorities say it wasn’t — claiming the group operated like an armed militia, outfitted in camouflage.
“He did what he had to do to demand accountability from the federal government,” Ammon Bundy’s attorney, Marcus Mumford, told jurors in his opening remarks.
“He demands the federal government obey the law. The nerve!”
Out of 18 other defendants who also faced conspiracy charges, 11 have pleaded guilty and the other seven will stand trial early next year.
The standoff began on Jan. 2 after a local protest over the jailing of two ranchers who started fires on federal land. The last of Bundy’s supporters left the land on Feb. 11.
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