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Nevada Lawmaker Sides With the Bundys

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - The final four holdouts of the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge exchanged friendly waves with Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore at their arraignments Friday.

Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta agreed to release Geoffrey Stanek pending trial. The other five defendants arraigned on Friday will remain in jail.

Fiori, R-Clark County, in January sent the militants boxes of food and signed copies of "The Michele Fiori Second Amendment Calendar," in which she poses for racy photos while holding semi-automatic weapons.

After the hearing, Fiore stood on the front steps of the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse and described her part in negotiating an end to the occupation.

Wearing a necklace with a pendant shaped like a handgun, Fiori said she had just arrived in Portland on Wednesday night to meet with Ammon Bundy's lawyers when she heard that the final four militants on the refuge were demanding her help on their live stream YouTube broadcast.

Fiori said she immediately headed southeast to Burns, where she worked with the FBI to bring the 41-day occupation to a peaceful end.

On Friday, Fiori repeatedly characterized the armed occupation as a legal protest. She said she hasn't seen any evidence that the federal government ever asked Bundy and the other militants to leave the refuge.

"I advocate free, peaceful assembly and that is exactly what happened," Fiori said. "Nobody pointed a gun at anybody, except the police.

"I truly believe that the people that stood on the refuge are prisoners today because they exercised their political free speech. And I do not think it's OK for Americans to be jailed for their political free speech."

Aaron Weiss, media director for public lands watchdog group the Center for Western Priorities, told Courthouse News there was nothing legal about the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

"Legal protests don't involve taking over federal buildings, preventing wildlife managers from doing their jobs and threatening anyone from coming near them," Weiss said.

Fiori said the occupation happened because the federal government is bullying ranchers.

"Just as we stood up to the bullies in school when they picked on defenseless classmates, we have to stand united and defend federal government, large government bullies as well," Fiori said.

But Weiss said ranchers get a great deal to graze their cows on public lands.

Grazing cattle on federal land is cheaper than on state-owned land in every Western state and is four to 11 times cheaper than grazing privately owned land, Weiss said.

"There are a handful of folks with these bizarre constitutional theories that Ammon Bundy and Michele Fiori like to spread, but there are certainly not signs of a massive uprising among ranchers," Weiss said.

Weiss criticized Fiori's contributions to the militants.

"Her role went beyond speakership," Weiss said. "She took other actions in support of the occupation. And that's unacceptable from an elected leader."

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