Charges Dropped Against Oregon Standoff YouTuber

     Shock jock journalist Peter Santilli won’t be prosecuted for calling on his followers to join him at the the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, after a judge dismissed the charges against him on the night before the trial began.
     Seven defendants remain in the trial that began with jury selection on Wednesday. Although 26 people were initially indicted, only Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, David Fry, Kenneth Medenbach, Jeff Banta and Neil Wampler will be tried at this time. Eleven other co-defendants have pleaded guilty, and seven are scheduled for a trial that will begin Feb. 14.
     Santilli, who with his partner Deb Jordan hosts “The Pete Santilli Show,” a YouTube show that Santilli bills as “the alternative to the alternative media.” He dressed mostly in military fatigues during the occupation, with a huge badge on his back identifying him as “press.”
     During the occupation, Santilli was an outspoken presence who drew the ire of locals. He filmed continuously, and would sometimes shout at other journalists and counter-protesters during Ammon Bundy’s daily press conferences at the refuge.
     In April 2014, Santilli put out the call on his show for fellow “patriots” to join the standoff between Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s father and the federal government over the planned seizure of Cliven Bundy’s cattle herd. The government claims Cliven owes over $1 million in fees for grazing on federal land.
     “If you’re in Nevada, and you can legally carry, get weapons out there, OK?” Santilli said on air. “We’re going to stand and fight in Clark County, Nevada. They will leave or else.”
     Santilli is facing charges in Nevada related to that standoff.
     He made similar calls for his followers to join a Jan. 2 protest in Burns, Oregon, after Dwight and Steven Hammond were ordered to serve prison sentences for lighting two fires on federal land where they had permits to graze their cattle.
     Local outrage over the father and son’s mandatory minimum sentences sparked a legal protest in Burns. That’s the event Santilli has always said he traveled from his home in Cincinnati to cover.
     Since his arraignment, Santilli has maintained that he was not a militant taking part in an illegal occupation. Instead, he said was a journalist covering what was supposed to be a peaceful protest over the jailing of two local ranchers.
     And when he found out about Ammon Bundy’s plan to forcibly occupy the refuge, Santilli was “pissed” according to his attorney, Tom Coan.
     Santilli felt like he was being used, Coan said, like Ammon Bundy was trying to manipulate him into being the mouthpiece for an illegal occupation.
     “He felt like he was brought out under false pretenses,” Coan said in a phone interview. “Nobody told him about plan B — that they were going to the refuge. It just unfolded and he was expected to fall in line and rally people to come out there.”
     During the occupation, Santilli published legal documents related to the federal case against the Hammonds on his website. That information came from computers at the refuge. Somebody scanned and distributed those documents, and U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown ruled last week that Santilli didn’t have to reveal who handed them over.
     Coan said the ruling underscored Santilli’s role as a journalist and set the stage for the dismissal of the charges against him. Coan called the ruling “an implicit acknowledgement that Pete was a member of the press and was protected as a journalist under the First Amendment.”
     The judge also said she would tell the jury that Santilli’s statements were protected under the First Amendment unless he had an explicit intent to incite imminent illegal action and that his statements were likely to do so.
     Ultimately, the government couldn’t hurdle that high bar, Coan said.
     “The government said his rally calls were part of conspiracy,” Coan said. “But the fact is that Pete never called anybody to stay at refuge. He discouraged that. He made several calls to get people to come out to the area and talk to people at refuge. But he wasn’t inciting people to come out and commit imminent lawless action. He was just asking people to come out and that doesn’t cross the line.”
     Deb Jordan, co-host of “The Pete Santilli Show” and Santilli’s girlfriend, defended Santilli’s right to say what he wants on air.
     “Pete is an advocacy journalist that’s the realm he operates in. We were in Bunkerville. But we also covered protests Cleveland after the shooting of Tamir Rice and in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. You name it, he’s covered it. He’s very passionate. If he sees somebody who’s been mistreated by the U.S. government then he goes and he meets them. Just because he’s a journalist doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to be an activist. There’s no law against that.”
     Santilli will remain in federal custody despite the dismissal of the conspiracy charge against him in Oregon, since he still faces charges in Nevada over the 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch.

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