When Ammon Bundy and others were finally arrested at the Malheur wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon, people expected them to face a trail. Not too many observers expected the not guilty verdict. but it should not come as much of a surprise. It is not because they were not prosecuted with force. The Federal Government needed a conviction. It is because of a series of circumstances with the militia movement.
The occupation lasted 41 days and it involved heavily armed people, who also desecrated sacred lands and prevented Federal Officials from doing their jobs at the refuge. They did quite a bit of damage. Near the end, Lavoy Finnicum reached for a gun and was killed by a law enforcement officer. Ammon Bundy and others were arrested, and the rest surrendered after their surrender was negotiated.
This was part of the ongoing clash between Federal Officials and Western Ranchers who have been leading sort of a resistance to federal authority over public lands. There is also a clear intersection between the militia movement and western farmers.
Primer into the militia
Who are the militia? They tend to be right-wing groups, and mostly white. There are some militia these days that are also starting to include a few minority members among its ranks. The foundational moment for the modern militia movement is the Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho. This happened over 20 years ago, and it lasted months It is also one of the two reasons why the Feds tend to have a light hand on militia occupations.
The Feds wanted Weaver on weapons violations, and the Feds surrounded his cabin in the woods of Ponderosa county. The end of the standoff came when an FBI sniper opened fire killing Weaver’s wife, Vicky. Incidentally, the Special Agent in Charge was San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore.
The second foundational moment for the modern militia movement was Waco. During that incident, David Koresh and 78 of his church members died during a federal assault. The Feds were attempting to serve a search warrant, again, over weapons and other issues. Four agents and six Branch Davidians died during the initial assault that led to a long siege.
This two events happened within a year, and one of them, Waco, Timothy McVeigh witnessed it. Later he bombed the Murrow building in Oklahoma City hoping to light up the second American revolution. After that, the Feds have been concerned with not creating any more martyrs for the far right. So ever since the feds have had a pretty soft touch when it comes to the militias. They keep these confrontations as contained and nonviolent as possible.
Modern day militias come in different flavors. No, they are not the same. Weaver went on to help create a branch of the movement, the White Christian identity Church. These people believe that Christianity is a white religion. Anybody else perverts it. Christ was white, and some are extremely well armed expecting the end of the world to come soon. They also believe in racial purity and marrying in between themselves.
Others like your regular libertarian types know the end of the world as we know it is coming since the excesses from the Federal government will cause the ultimate social collapse. They believe in things like the Federal Reserve is a plot to destroy the monetary system, and of course, the United Nations is ready to invade the country. So soon we will have blue helmets across American cities and they will be the only ones to rise against the new tyranny.
There is also a strain of older white supremacy types. The Klu Klux Klan has been part of this on and off for a while for example. In San Diego, we have had a few of these types. Many older San Diegans might remember Tom Metzger and his antics in the East County. Since he came out of prison, he moved to the midwest, where he has continued to work on building the coming revolution.
How about the Bundys? They are Sovereign Citizens. They do not recognize any federal government authority over federal lands, or even any branch of government. The highest authority Ammon Bundy and his father recognize is the county sheriff. The logic is convoluted and goes back to even before Magna Carta, but this is one reason they have been feeding their cattle on Federal land for years in Nevada, and refuse to pay fines.
There is more, while they are the most extreme form of anger at the feds, they are not alone. In the west, we have had a conflict between owners and the feds that covers generations. Many ranchers, in particular, want access to lands such as the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego, or the Anza-Borrego National Park. They know that they could use the water, and feed there, but are prevented from doing such by the Feds. This land, they content, belongs to them and should be opened for exploitation by private people a long time ago. Yes, there are politicians who run on this as well.
As to the Sheriff being the only authority. In many rural areas of the country, and Oregon was not the exception, some backcountry sheriffs believe this as well. So they are very reluctant to enforce state and federal laws.They tend to look the other way. This actually happened in Oregon. When Ammon Bundy was arrested, he was on his way to meet a neighboring county sheriff that is also a sovereign citizen or at least is friendly to the ideology. Here are the major points with to remember with Sovereign Citizens, and to a lesser extent rural areas.
- There is a dislike of government in general, particularly the feds.
- The rural way of life is getting destroyed. There is some evidence to this being the case as more people move to cities.
- To a differing extent, there is a racial animus. Not all militias hate minorities the same way, but some definitely do.A few are allowing Minority members in the ranks, such as the 3 percents and the California militia,
- Not all militias agree to how to achieve the ultimate end, or how to work with others after the revolution. In other words, there is plenty of internal conflict with the militias.
The far-right militias in particular, but those who want to bring an end to the war on drugs also use this tactic. In theory, when you assemble a jury, the jurors have no opinion on the matter at hand, They are as unbiased as you can get.
In practice this is what Jury Nullification is:
Jury nullification is a constitutional doctrine which allows juries to acquit criminal defendants who are technically guilty, but who do not deserve punishment. It occurs in a trial when a jury reaches a verdict contrary to the judge’s instructions as to the law.
Was there jury nullification in this case? One juror was dismissed near the end, and there are signs that perhaps nullification played a role.
This is via Raw Story
Juror 11, who was dismissed after defense attorneys complained, insisted during an interview Friday that he was not biased from his time working for the Bureau of Land Management or as a corrections officer, but he knows he was the only juror leaning toward convicting the militants.
Nickens said he polled the jurors Oct. 20, shortly after deliberations began, and found the other jurors had already made up their minds to acquit — and he was not sure he could be swayed in that direction.
In case you were wondering, this is straight from a militia blog:
Was this a true “not guilty” verdict where the prosecution failed to make a compelling case for any of the charges against the seven defendants? Or was this an example of jury nullification in action, with a jury deciding that they disliked the federal government’s case, and issued “not guilty” verdicts as a moral stand against a government that has all too often been accused—and rightfully, I may add—with abusing their power?
So there is that, straight from people who understand exactly how this works.
This is the immediate charge because the legal system was not able to get a conviction. This was an all white jury, standing over an all white group of defendants, They were the ring leaders. So yes likely race played a role. But I am going to break with a lot of analysts and say that rural anger at a central distant government was more important in this case.
That said, this was not a total defeat for prosecutors. While the ring leaders will in a couple cases still face the court in Nevada, 11 have already pled guilty. 7 will still face the court in 2017.
Yes, race did play a role. But I suspect there was also the toxic mix that has led rise to militias, and a sense of the end of history for many rural areas. This jury trial was a way for jurors to give a big middle finger to the hated feds. This is one reason trials involving militias have a change of venue. Oregon is a tough nut since it is mostly a rural state. As such, finding people who were not at least sympathetic to the idea that public lands should be privatized is much harder than for example, San Diego. By that, I mean the City of San Diego, not the rural areas of the county.