Oregon Occupiers Cleared of Most Serious Charge

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Ammon Bundy and fellow militants will not face a charge that could have carried a life sentence, after a judge found their armed occupation of a wildlife refuge wasn’t a crime of violence.
     U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown on Friday dismissed the most serious charge — using a gun to commit a crime of violence — against Bundy, his brother Ryan, Jon Ritzheimer, Ryan Payne, Brian Cavalier, Jason Patrick and Sean Anderson, related to their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.
     The charge exposed the seven men to the possibility of life in prison. It also carried a minimum sentence of five years and a mandate to serve the sentence consecutively to any sentence imposed for the other two counts — conspiracy to keep federal workers from doing their jobs by using force, intimidation or threats, and possession of firearms in a federal facility.
     Those two charges are considerably less serious. Neither imposes a minimum sentence. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of six years in prison, while the possession charge has a maximum of five years.
     For 41 days, the occupiers and their supporters — some of whom were heavily armed — swarmed the offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees who run the refuge.      
     In interviews with Courthouse News, some of those employees have said the effect of the occupation on their lives was similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
     But at a hearing in May, defense attorney Per Olsen argued that there was no evidence that the occupation was a violent crime.
     Olsen questioned the government’s equation of force, intimidation or threats with violence.
     “Intimidation does not equal violence,” Olson told Brown in May. “The government’s definition of intimidation is to make someone afraid. Afraid of what? They don’t say bodily harm or anything specific.”
     U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight told Brown at the hearing that whether the occupation was a violent crime was a question for a jury to resolve.
     In her June 10 ruling, Brown found that the conspiracy charge is not a crime of violence because threats and intimidation can apply to nonviolent acts like damage to property, rather than physical violence against a person.
     Similarly, a threat to blackmail a federal officer “is a kind of threat that does not necessarily require as an element the ‘threatened use of physical force,'” Brown wrote.
     The ruling sets the roadmap for the trial against the 26 defendants, which is set to begin in September and anticipated to drag into 2017.
     Ammon Bundy has said the goal of the occupation was to land exactly where he is: in a federal court, where he believes he can argue the constitutionality of the federal government’s right to own land.

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