I have had more jaw-dropping, ‘what-the-heck-just-happened?’, ‘choke-on-my-coffee’ moments during the last 10 months than in my entire lifetime prior to 2016! This evening (Thursday) brought another such moment. Opening the New York Times website while eating a cup of soup, I see this:
Seven Who Seized Oregon Wildlife Refuge Are Acquitted
Some of you may remember the post I wrote in January, SO … WHO IS RIGHT? OR … FILOSOFA TAKES ON THE RANCHERS … about the Bundys and their group of armed, so-called militia who illegally occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon throughout January of this year. Well, the news today is that after a month-long trial and five days of jury deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty” for all seven defendants. You heard me … “Not Guilty”. How? My first thought was that the jurors (9 women & 3 men, all white) were somehow blindfolded such that they did not see the videos and photographs clearly showing the occupation of a federal building by thugs … specifically the seven thugs they had shared a courtroom with for over a month … carrying machine guns and other weapons.
In a monthlong trial here, the defendants never denied that they had occupied and held the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters for nearly six weeks, demanding that the federal government surrender the 188,000-acre property to local control. But their lawyers argued that prosecutors did not prove that the group had engaged in an illegal conspiracy that kept federal workers — employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management — from doing their jobs. – New York Times, 27 October 2016
Just after 4 p.m. Thursday, Judge Anna Brown read all charges: all defendants were found not guilty of charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers and not guilty of possession of firearms in a federal facility. One of the occupiers, Kenneth Medenbach, was found not guilty of theft of a government-owned truck. – The Washington Post, 27 October 2016
“At the end of the day, there is an element of common sense that demonstrates the guilt of these defendants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight said during his closing arguments during the trial. “These defendants took over a wildlife refuge and it wasn’t theirs.”
Rolling Stone writer Jesse Bernie tweeted: “In case you’re wondering what white privilege looks like, it’s taking over a federal building with guns and getting off scot-free.”
The occupation in rural eastern Oregon fueled a long running debate about the role of the federal government when it comes of managing public lands, especially for ranching and other natural resource-based professions.
Throughout the armed protest, occupation leader Ammon Bundy frequently said their goal was to shift the federally-owned land to local control. During press conferences and interviews, Bundy frequently said he wanted to “get the ranchers back to ranching, get the loggers back to logging and miners back to mining.” (Just today I read an article in The Guardian about species destined to become extinct and part of the reason is too much land being used for human consumption! … What say you to that, Mr. Bundy? Are your damn cows more important than fully 2/3 of the world’s wildlife?)
The questions that Americans will be asking in the coming days are:
- If these ‘protestors’ (thugs) had been African-American, Native American, or Hispanic, would the verdict have been different? Would they have even lived to come to trial?
- Would the verdict have been different two years ago, before the culture of populism, hate and fear-mongering that has been propagated by none other than the republican presidential candidate?
- What did that entire fiasco, 41 days of occupation by gun-toting vandals, plus a month-long trial, cost We the Taxpayers???
- Will this ‘scot-free’ verdict lead to more, of these crazies and creeps coming out of the woodwork, occupying other government lands and facilities? (Almost certainly)
My last question borders on conspiracy theory, which I typically do not indulge in or buy into, and I may regret it tomorrow, but tonight I am angry. Did money exchange hands, thus ensuring that these thugs would be set free?
I will undoubtedly write a more comprehensive and coherent post about this in a day or two, but for tonight, I just needed to rant a bit! Thank you, dear readers, for bearing with me.