PORTLAND, Ore. — Ammon Bundy and his followers made ample use of social media and videos to summon armed recruits to join their takeover of a wildlife refuge and to declare their readiness to stand their ground. Now federal authorities are using the occupiers’ own words against them.
Two criminal complaints unsealed this week against the 11 protesters under arrest show that FBI agents have carefully scrutinized social media postings, interviews and online talk shows that were broadcast from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge during the siege that began Jan. 2.
As four holdouts continued to occupy the refuge in the snowy high country near Burns, Bundy and several other jailed leaders were due to appear in federal court in Portland on Friday to answer charges they used force or intimidation to prevent government employees from carrying out their duties.
A federal judge said Thursday she will not release any defendants while the occupation continues. Bundy, through his attorney, has repeatedly called on the holdouts to leave peacefully.
The ranchers and other protesters took over the refuge to demand that the federal government turn public lands over to local control. They have complained about what they say are onerous federal rules governing grazing and mining rights across the West.
The criminal complaints detail some of the evidence against the occupiers.
A day after the takeover began, for example, a video posted on a website showed Bundy saying the group planned to stay for several years. He called on people to “come out here and stand,” adding: “We need you to bring your arms.”
A video posted Jan. 4 showed another defendant, Jon Ritzheimer, saying he was “100 per cent willing to lay my life down.”
In a video posted a day later, Ritzheimer talked about Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and other occupiers taking up a “defensive posture” at the refuge against a feared FBI raid.
“Right now underneath the tarp right there — LaVoy Finicum is sitting underneath the tarp, and he’s not going to let them come through,” Ritzheimer said in the video.
That raid never came.
Finicum was killed Tuesday night in a confrontation with the FBI and Oregon State Police on a remote road. Bundy and four others were arrested during the encounter, and more followers were taken into custody by the next day.
At one point there were a couple of dozen ranchers and other protesters holed up at the refuge, but they began clearing out after the arrests and the killing. The last four holdouts have demanded assurances they will not be arrested.
The FBI on Thursday released a video showing Finicum’s death, to counter claims he did nothing to provoke his killing.
In the aerial video, Finicum is pulled over in his white truck but then takes off in the vehicle and plows into a snowbank because of a roadblock. He gets out of his truck and has his hands up at first, then reaches toward his jacket pocket at least twice. He is shot and falls to the snow.
The FBI said a loaded handgun was found in the pocket.
An undisclosed number of state troopers involved in the shooting were been placed on leave pending an investigation, which is standard procedure.
The charges against the defendants say the refuge’s 16 employees have been prevented from reporting to work because of threats of violence.
Bundy is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a tense 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights.
The group came to the desert of eastern Oregon in the dead of winter to decry what it calls onerous federal land restrictions and to object to the prison sentences of two local ranchers convicted of setting fires.