Jury cites troublemaking agent provocateurs for escalating situation
BY RAQUEL OKYAY
A group of seven armed protesters who occupied an Oregon Wildlife Refuge for six weeks were cleared of all but one charge by a federal jury last week.
The Portland, Oregon jury found the six men and one woman “not guilty” on federal charges of conspiracy to impede federal law enforcement officers. Ammon Bundy, 40, and Ryan C. Bundy, 43, from the famed Bundy ranching family, were among those acquitted.
“When I heard the first ‘not guilty’ I went into shock,” said Julie Embry, assistant to Pro Se Litigant Ryan Bundy, who was inside the courtroom. “I let out a cry and started to tremble ferociously.” She said others tried to calm her down, to no avail.
After being a victim of government corruption, Emry said she sympathized with the Bundy family who made headlines for his standoff and ultimate arrest. She said it was fate that led her to arrange a visit to see Ryan Bundy face to face, who was being detained at a Portland prison.
That was the beginning of a 6-month spiritual and educational journey, she said. “God’s instructions to me were clear: go wake Ryan Bundy.”
In early Jan. at the Oregon Wildlife Refuge, up to 150 concerned citizens had consumed the space for 41 days to complain that their local and federal governments had been behaving tyrannically. The armed protest was spawned from outrage at the excessive punishment of Burns, Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, who last year, had each been convicted of Federal arson charges with mandatory sentences of five years in prison. The arson charges, which pertained to routine efforts by the Hammonds to burn out potentially hazardous bush adjacent to their ranch, were prosecuted under a terrorism statute. Their sentence was ruled onerous and unconstitutional by a lower court judge but a higher court overruled that finding.
The 41-day occupation abruptly ended when authorities killed Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum in a barrage of bullets and the seven defendants were criminally charged. Finicum, who was the driver of one of the vehicles stopped in a police roadblock just outside of Harney County, was among a coterie of ranchers who had taken control of the Oregon wildlife refuge in protest of federal actions the group claimed threaten the ranchers way of life.
The Hammond family, who openly sought redress of government wrongdoing through a common law grand jury, claimed to be whistleblowers being punished for exposing a government take-over of their private lands. The Bundy family of Nevada, who also arrived at the refuge to assist the Hammond family, had their own standoff with the feds in 2014, as patriarch Cliven Bundy and hundreds of militia men stood toe to toe with federal authorities.
The government is not the authority of all matters, we the people are, said Embry. “The authorities showed up, not with uniforms and badges, but with cowboy boots and hats on – that’s when the authorities showed up.” We the people are the authority, said the Texas mom. “The uniforms and badges are subject to us and never the other way around.”
Embry said the most memorable moments of the trial were the closing statements of Ryan Bundy, who represented himself pro se. “His sweet attempts to read to the jury the document he so loves – his pocket Constitution.” The judge in the case, Anna Brown, stopped Ryan from reading it, and it was his heartfelt reaction to being stymied that showed his sheer sincerity, she said.
“Standing there alone trying not to cry it seemed, and his hard swallows as he attempted to compose himself, and like the eagle he is, he soared higher and pressed on through his grief,” said Embry. “I believe in those moments recomposing himself, he ripped his chest open and bared his heart to them all the way to the soul.”
She said the most telling part of the trial was when the jury had mentioned that had the government chosen lower charges, they might have voted differently. This is the perfect example of government overreach, said the former nurse. “The jury was correct that the prosecutors just could not bear the weight of the burden of proof for such greedy charges.”
In addition, jurors called out the government for their use of agent provocateurs. Instead of working to reduce tensions from within the group, the government infiltrators purposely escalated it, leaving jurors unsure who did that.
Ismael “Al” Sarmad, a Delaware academic researcher, said he began watchdog efforts in this case to highlight the evisceration of our constitutional rights. Just weeks before Finicum was shot to death by authorities, he pitched a plan to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to resolve the matter without bloodshed.
“Had the governor elected to have me out there for a sit down meeting, LaVoy Finicum would still be alive today,” said Sarmad. “I honestly wanted to do the best I could, for both sides to come to the table and have a solution.”
We are all Americans and we are all human, he said.
“I identified myself to authorities and I talked to Ammon Bundy on his cell phone about de-escalation plans,” he continued. “There was an area where I could have made a bridge between the two parties, but they elected not to have me out there to do that.”
The decision not to utilize his expertise resulted in bloodshed, just as he predicted, he said.
“Even if there is criminality there, I would have done my best to force it out, but the system did not want a solution,” lamented Sarmad, who has a Master’s Degree in both Homeland Security and Business Administration. “But if the people want me out there, if they want to sue the government, I’m willing to help them make their case.” From a Homeland Security perspective, he wants safety and security for everybody, he said.
In the tyranny-patriot type tug of war, he suggested that the patriots take their revolt a step further. “Revolts don’t work; they’re like a hissy fit, and they leave the occupying force or the government in power to still do the same thing to you again next week, or whenever they decide to.” Revolutions, on the other hand, are a revolt with the ultimate goal of kicking the government or the occupying force out.
“At a minimum, the people might decide to vote them out, or at the maximum, the people might remove them from office, physically,” said Sarmad. “So the government is scared and that’s why they’re throwing the book at the patriots, and that is to be expected.”
Eleven other participants in the Oregon standoff pled guilty to various charges without facing a jury. While five of the seven charged in the Oregon case went free, the government maintained custody of the Bundy brothers, as they still face charges for the 2014 Nevada standoff.
Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, expressed disappointment with the verdict. “The occupation of the Malheur Reserve did not reflect the Oregon way of respectfully working together to resolve differences.”
One charge against Ryan Bundy, theft of government property, was returned with no verdict.