A jury found Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with five other people who took over and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Portland, Ore., for 41 days last winter, not guilty of conspiring to impede federal workers from doing their jobs at the refuge.
“Vindicated. World news. Let’s take back the narrative America,” was written the next day on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page.
Let the backlash begin.
While the jury’s Thursday decision enraged liberals and environmentalists, it shocked prosecutors and even stunned the defense team.
John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians, said he was “extremely disappointed and surprised” by the not guilty verdict.
“I fear this ruling will embolden other militants to use the threat of violence and I worry for the safety of employees at our public land management agencies. It is entirely possible there will be threats or intimidation from militants that believe such actions are justified by this verdict,” said Horning in a statement.
There were also charges of racism.
“Apparently it’s legal in America for heavily armed white terrorists to invade Oregon,” tweeted former talk show host Montel Williams. “Imagine if some black folk did this.”
A former MSNBC pundit, Cenk Uygur, who is now the host of online news show The Young Turks, tweeted, “I’m sure whole country will erupt in shocked outrage now that Bundy brothers have been acquitted just like they did with OJ.”
It wasn’t only the environmental and liberal communities who were shocked by the decision from a jury of the Bundy’s peers. The winning team was just as amazed.
“This is off-the-charts unbelievable,” said Matthew Schindler, an attorney for defendant Kenneth Medenbach, while supporters cheered, honked car horns and rode horses outside the courthouse. “I had been telling my client you can count on being convicted. You don’t walk into a federal court and win a case like this. It just doesn’t happen.”
However, the five weeks of courtroom arguments, in that case, did not spell the end of Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s time behind bars.
Nor were the verdicts an end to the drama.
Ammon and Ryan are still in the custody of federal marshals. They face charges in Nevada related to a 2014 standoff with police near their father’s farm.
But Marcus Mumford, the attorney for Ammon Bundy, shouted at U.S. District Judge Anna Brown, calling on her to release his client.
“Mr. Mumford, you really need to not yell at me now or ever again,” Brown said.
Defendant Shawna Cox and another of the defense attorneys told the Seattle Times Mumford ignored that admonition until courtroom marshals knocked him to the ground.
Actually, Mumford didn’t shut up until he was shocked with a stun gun.
“‘Don’t tase me.’ That’s what I was saying,” Mumford said. “You don’t need to, I’m on the ground.”
He wasn’t the only player in the Bundy Brothers drama who has not lost his fighting spirit. It doesn’t seem like federal officials who stood by their decision to prosecute the militia members are ready to give up without another fight.
Kevin Sonoff, a U.S. Attorney General’s Office spokesman, said the next day federal officials would “regroup with our trial team and decide what we will do going forward.”
But how could they have lost this case in the first place? No one disagrees with the assertion that the Bundy brothers led a militia team into the refugee with the intent of taking over the compound.
Some critics have suggested the federal prosecutors never should have gone for a conspiracy conviction, as is a standard practice against a criminal enterprise like the Mafia.
Others said that the weapons charges were a stretch.
Still, Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams defended the prosecution team and its tactics.
“We still think it’s illegal to take over a public structure on public land at the end of a gun,” Williams told The Oregonian. “There’s a distinction between lawful protest and committing criminal acts to prove your point.’’
However, Williams had to admit he was surprised by the verdict.
“No one likes the disappointment that comes with a verdict like this, especially where there’s important ramifications,” he said.
There is no doubt the Bundy family were the victors, and the federal prosecutors were defeated.
But the real losers in this story could be Pacific Northwest gun owners who would never dream of taking over federal property and pointing weapons at police.
They are at least collateral damage.
At least that’s what Ryan Birch, the owner of Rogue Custom Guns in Grand Pass, Ore., told KDRV-TV.
“I’ve personally through my shop felt a lot of backlash, as gun owners in general, being pegged as radicals, I guess you could say,” Birch said. “It really kinda sets us back with what we’re trying to do, and let people know that we are safe, we’re not doing stupid stuff.”