Last week's stunning acquittal of Ammon Bundy and six of his followers who last winter took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns was not only a slap in the face to law and order, but a dangerous precedent that sends the wrong message: that anyone who has an ax to grind over federal policy can stage an armed takeover of our public lands. It is also a shameful affront to the residents who are still trying to recover from the trauma of last January's event which severely compromised the law-abiding community that has long supported the national refuge.
The Source Weekly reported on site from the refuge during the event and found it to be a bizarre scene. It was cold and desolate in the dead of winter, and the vibe coming from Bundy and his followers—who were heavily armed—was eerie. They commandeered buildings, vehicles and the grounds and used them for their own purposes, all while visibly carrying firearms. They took over the watchtower which overlooks the refuge where they could keep track of all activities. If you walked the grounds, you always had a pair of eyes on you. In short, they took a peaceful setting and turned it into an armed camp.
But that's not all. They regularly drove illegally-commandeered federal vehicles into Burns where they hazed residents on the streets, in the stores, and during a community meeting held at the high school. Schools were shut down for days. Government business was shut down, including day-to-day activities at the nearby Burns headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management. The Harney County Courthouse was put on high security and barricaded from normal activity. According to some reports, the occupation cost taxpayers up to $9 million.
"The message of the Malheur verdicts is that the federal land management agencies stand alone," Dennis McLane, the retired deputy chief of law enforcement for the Bureau of Land Management, told The New York Times.
The group's actions also caused harm to Native Americans of the Burns Paiute Tribe whose ancestors left their DNA throughout the refuge over thousands of years. By carving in an unauthorized road near headquarters buildings, damage was done to the land and disrespect shown to tribal heritage, which can never be reversed. And when we compare the treatment of the Bundy occupiers to the treatment of the demonstrators against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota—who have sustained pepper spray and dog attacks during their peaceful actions—we only get more infuriated.
Inside Malheur headquarters buildings, government computers were ransacked. Records and information were compromised by a group of individuals who had no right to do so. Even today the Welcome Center remains closed to the public.
Last January's nightmare at our wildlife refuge was nothing short of domestic terrorism. This by outsiders from Nevada who have a quarrel with the Bureau of Land Management because the Bundys refused to pay grazing fees for use of public lands where their cattle were fattened for market. The jury's acquittal rewards their actions and will go down as one of the biggest injustices in modern history. It is shameful.