A federal judge ordered Ammon Bundy and other leaders of the armed militia in Oregon to remain behind bars without bail at a hearing in Portland.
By the Friday afternoon hearing, 11 people associated with the standoff at the Malheur national wildlife refuge in rural Harney County had been arrested and charged with federal felony offenses – and only four holdouts remained at the occupation of federal buildings.
In a packed courtroom hundreds of miles away from the wildlife refuge that rightwing protesters first seized on 2 January, prosecutors argued that the militia protesters were “flight risks” given their well-documented criminal activities and anti-government statements over the past month.
The hearing came days after police stopped Bundy and several others on a remote highway outside of the town of Burns, arresting five people and fatally shooting protest spokesman LaVoy Finicum. Six more people were subsequently arrested, including three who left the refuge voluntarily and turned themselves in to FBI officials at nearby checkpoints.
The suspects are all accused of impeding federal officers from discharging official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats – facing a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
Ten of them – including Bundy and his brother, Ryan – appeared for a detention hearing to determine whether they would be released on bail.
During the lengthy hearing, US magistrate Stacie Beckerman ordered Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Dylan Anderson and Jason Patrick to remain in custody without bail.
“It is not that we don’t respect the government,” Ammon Bundy said during the hearing. “In fact, it is just the opposite. I’m a federalist … My only desire is to protect freedom.” He also argued that the protest wasn’t violent: “There was never an armed standoff.”
In the case of Shawna Cox, a 59-year-old occupier from Utah and the only woman who has been charged, Beckerman agreed to release her on bail – once the occupation ends. That means as long as the holdouts stand their ground at Malheur, Cox will remain behind bars.
Jon Ritzheimer, another high-profile militia leader, was arrested in Arizona on Tuesday and not present in Portland.
In a complaint filed this week, prosecutors cited extensive evidence from the militia members’ social media profiles and news interviews – relying on videos and Facebook posts to argue that they were intentionally breaking the law and repeatedly refused to surrender.
In a request that the judge deny the occupiers’ bail, prosecutors cited Ammon Bundy’s disdain for the federal criminal justice system in an August 2015 Facebook post in which he wrote: “There is no justice in a federal court. The feds have used the courts to take rights not protect them.”
The judge did approve bail for Joe Oshaughnessy, a rightwing activist who was present at the refuge, but has argued that he was not a member of the militia and was trying to act as a mediator to prevent violence.
But the prosecutors appealed the decision, which means Oshaughnessy will remain in jail until next week when he has another hearing.
Beckerman delayed making a decision in the case of Pete Santilli, a conservative radio host who was a vocal supporter of the occupation and regularly live-streamed the protests. He has argued that he was acting as a journalist covering the standoff, but prosecutors contended that he is an anti-government activist who has repeatedly stated his unwillingness to abide by court-ordered mandates.
The judge also delayed detention hearings for occupiers Brian Cavalier and Duane Ehmer.
At the refuge, one of the remaining occupiers, 27-year-old David Fry, posted another video update on Friday demanding that they be “pardoned” before they surrender.
FBI officials have said their negotiators are willing to talk to the occupiers but will not make any promises about free passage out of the refuge.
After the court hearing, Mike Arnold, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, once again urged the final occupiers to end the standoff, saying it was time to let the fight continue in the courtroom.
“The whole purpose of accessing the refuge was to get the attention to an issue that was being ignored,” Arnold said. “The reason that we are talking about this now is because of civil disobedience.”
Carol J Williams contributed reporting from Burns, Oregon.
Copyright © 2016 theguardian.com. All rights reserved.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.