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Shock-Jock YouTuber Denied Bail in Oregon Militia Melee

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Independent journalist Pete Santilli will wait for trial on charges he conspired to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in jail, despite arguments that he was there only to report the news.

Even though Santilli's "history and characteristics don't favor detention," U.S. District Chief Judge Michael W. Mosman found that it was too risky to release Santilli to home detention in Cincinnati - not because he might run, but because he "might not come peacefully when the U.S. Marshals knock on his door."

"It's not a risk of flight," Mosman said at Thursday's hearing in Federal Court. "It's that he might stay put and shoot it out."

Santilli's lawyer, Thomas Coan, said the judge based his decision on anti-government statements Santilli made on his YouTube talk show rather than on documented behavior that shows Santilli is a person who complies with orders from police.

"This doesn't pass the smell test," Coan said. "What the government says are dangerous are his words."

Coan told Courthouse News that the American Civil Liberties Union had contacted him, wanting to get involved in what Coan characterized as a constitutional battle.

"They have reached out to me," Coan said. "They want to help. There are a lot of people who see this new-media journalism as being attacked. Not just here in Portland but also out in Baltimore during the riots and in Ferguson. The new-media journalists were the ones particularly that were getting in the government's face and being loud and difficult for them. And these are the ones that they are trying to muffle."

Representatives for ACLU Oregon said they couldn't comment on Santilli's case.

Mosman said several of Santilli's statements on "The Pete Santilli Show" showed he could pose a threat to the U.S. Marshals who would be responsible for supervising him if he were released on home arrest.

He pointed to two episodes where he said Santilli "expressed with some seriousness that no one is going to take him away."

Discussing no-knock warrants on the show, Santilli said he would shoot anyone who came through his door in the middle of the night.

"Make sure you knock or I'm gonna blow your balls off," Santilli said. "Especially the FBI. Why don't you go figure out who killed JFK or something like that?"

Santilli said on his show that he is always armed and would rather kill or be killed than let himself be arrested.

"You could catch me on the freaking potty," Santilli said. "I'll have my 9 mm next to me. Come at me in the grocery store and try to handcuff me. You better be Tasing me in my balls. Because I'm gonna die a free man. It's guaranteed."

Santilli also said on his show that he had buried his unregistered guns in California to avoid surrendering them under a restraining order that was later dismissed.

"Somebody I let into my bunker in California who knew I had a lot of guns filed a false restraining order because in California you have to turn in your guns if there's a restraining order against you," Santilli said. "Luckily, I keep my stuff buried. I'm not gonna be at the mercy of the system. So eff you, California."

Santilli raised a middle finger to the camera.

Later in the same episode, Santilli said the statement was just a joke.


"By the way," Santilli said, "if you want to use what I just said against me in a court of law, everything I say is all joking."

Coan said that was all just bravado, protected by the First Amendment.

"He's an entertainer," Coan told Mosman. "He goes up to the edge. He's loud and boisterous. To have a listenership, he has to say outrageous things."

Mosman said the question was not whether he should consider Santilli's speech, but rather choosing which of Santilli's statements to accept at face value.

"I have to decide whether the defendant should be taken at his word or not as a shock jock, making the inflammatory statements that one would have to make to create an audience," Mosman said, adding that Santilli's statements failed that test.

"When he says 'I won't let them take me away,' I don't hear that as a businessman trying to build a following," Mosman said. "I hear an expression of deeply held core beliefs that have to do with his rejection of the federal government and deep support for gun rights."

And it sounded like Santilli really did bury his guns in California, Mosman said.

"I hear a man who is hiding guns that he thought might need to be turned in. I don't buy it when he says later that he's just saying that for its entertainment value. That's an attempt to utilize a free-speech loophole to cover a man seriously trying to avoid surrendering guns."

The government also played a clip from Santilli's show in which he said he wants to shoot Hillary Clinton.

"On behalf of all the troops she had killed - we need to try, convict and shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina," Santilli said. "And I don't want her to die right away. I want to look her in the eye."

Mosman discarded that statement as irrelevant.

"Of course, that is the most objectionable, the most distasteful clip of all, but it has nothing to do with whether the defendant is a flight risk," Mosman said. "I take that as being at the core of shock jock speech. It's not a serious threat to murder Hillary Clinton."

Coan said the Secret Service investigated Santilli after he made that statement and found he posed no danger. And the First Amendment gives wide latitude to people to say all kinds of things, so long as they aren't making true threats, he added.

"For all people who have public TV shows, whether they are on the Internet or on network TV, the mix and breadth of expression that we have out there is helpful to society because we are all different," Coan told Courthouse News. "I may not agree with everything Mr. Santilli says - a majority of people might not - but his right to say what he believes or what he wants to promote is a right that most of us believe is a very important one."

Coan said Santilli's behavior shows he is not the man his radio persona suggests.


As examples, Coan played video of Santilli's arrest and of an incident where police kicked Santilli out of a town hall meeting in Burns, Oregon.

A video of Santilli's Jan. 26 arrest filmed by Portland CopWatch activist Mike Bluehair shows Santilli approaching the sheriffs' compound near the Malheur County Courthouse in Burns, flanked by towering florescent lights and concrete barricades. He told three officers that he wanted to cross the FBI perimeter into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and convince the militants holed up there to let the women and children leave peacefully. He spoke with the officers for several minutes before the told him to wait while they fetched a supervisor. When they called him back he explained his idea to the supervisor before they arrested him.

"I can get those women and children out of there," Santilli said. "That's guaranteed. Gunshots being fired - that's stupid. Nobody wants that."

"You're gonna have to come with us," the supervisor said.

"What?" Santilli asked.

"You're under arrest," the supervisor said.

"Under arrest?" Santilli asked incredulously.

But he didn't resist.

Coan said the video showed that Santilli would willingly follow orders - proof that Santilli would abide by the rules of release pending trial and that he would come peacefully when the U.S. Marshals showed up to get him for court dates.

Similarly, in Santilli's own video of his ejection from a town hall meeting in Burns, he repeatedly questioned the officers who escorted him out of the Burns High School gymnasium but did not physically resist.

Santilli interrupted speakers numerous times before an officer told him he had to leave the meeting. The crowd booed Santilli and cheered as the officer walked him out.

"You're not one of us," one woman yelled.

"I have a First Amendment right to express myself," Santilli told the crowd.

"Bullshit," another woman said off-camera.

"Are you kicking me out?" Santilli asked.

"Yes," an officer responded.

"For what?" Santilli asked.

"For disrupting the meeting," the officer said.

"It wasn't intending to disrupt," Santilli said. "I'll leave if you want me to leave."

"I want you to leave," the officer said.

"So I'm being escorted out for disruption," Santilli said.

"Yes," the officer said.

"Okay," Santilli said, as the door shut behind him.

Coan said Santilli's actions showed he was neither a threat to federal agents nor a flight risk. And he downplayed the seriousness of the things Santilli's said on his show.

"As for his statements, I can imagine some of our presidential candidates saying similar things," Coan said at an earlier detention hearing.

On Thursday, Coan played a clip of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking at a rally.

"My people are so loyal, I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters," Trump said in the video. "Isn't that incredible?"

Coan told Courthouse News that public speakers often make rhetorical statements that shouldn't be taken at face value.

"People say things, sometimes outrageous things that you don't take seriously," Coan said. "Nobody thinks Donald Trump is actually going to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. Pete has said things about shooting people too, but he's an entertainer and that shouldn't be taken seriously."

In an interview, Santilli's girlfriend and co-host Deborah Jordan said she was "shocked" and "confused" about why the government decided to arrest Santilli but didn't arrest armed militants who threatened to shoot government agents as part of the occupation.

"There were people there who said, 'If the government comes, I'm going to defend myself, I'm going to use my guns,'" Jordan told Courthouse News. "And those people are walking around in Burns, Oregon, today. They are free people. Pete Santilli never carried a firearm while he was there. Ever."

Jordan said the government was oiling the squeaky wheel.

"I think he was arrested because the FBI and the federal government had an ax to grind. He poked them in the eye and they didn't like it. He makes fun of them. Not just here in this situation. It's what he does. He's always that man, poking at them and making fun of them and I think they don't like it. And I think that they are doing this to shut him up and teach him a lesson."

Jordan said the government cherry-picked clips from his show that made him seem biased toward ultra-conservative causes. She said Santilli's focus is much broader.

"Pete Santilli will go wherever he thinks people are being oppressed," Jordan said. "Wherever people are being treated poorly by the government and there's a police state."

She said she and Santilli covered the riots in Baltimore and Cleveland that erupted in the wake of the police killings of Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice.

"The black people in Baltimore are being treated terribly," Jordan said. "Their constitutional rights are being stomped all over. So we stood with them and we took a lot of flack from the patriot community for being up there.

"From Baltimore to Burns, it's the same story every time. The haves are trying to make sure that the have nots don't have a voice and Pete will speak for them. He uses strong language and they don't like it."

Santilli got in the faces of FBI agents in those two cities, calling them "pussies" and "killers" on camera, but the government didn't use any of those clips at the hearing, Jordan said.

"Among all the things they had, they had not one thing to show from Baltimore or Cleveland and he had plenty to say when he was there," Jordan said. "Plenty."

Jordan said the government had political reasons for choosing the clips it did.

"They want to pigeonhole him as a right-wing extremist," Jordan said. "That's going to be their narrative and it's far from the truth. He's a new breed of journalist. He's an activist and a journalist. He's a street journalist and there are lots of them out there."

And Jordan said that should be troubling to anyone who is concerned about free speech.

"This is an attack on the press, on the First Amendment and we just don't do that to reporters no matter what side they take," Jordan said.

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