Saturday, January 16, 2016

Will Bundy and Co. go to jail?

As the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge rolls into its third week, many are asking whether justice will be served when the siege ends.

No one knows whether the group led by anti-federal crusader Ammon Bundy will leave the southeast Oregon refuge peacefully. The militants had planned to deliver a presentation this evening to Harney County residents about what they want to accomplish before heading home, but elected officials have barred them from using county facilities.

LaVoy Finicum, who is among the dozen or so who have occupied Malheur since Jan. 2, said yesterday he doubts the public meeting will take place.

Assuming the militants do eventually go home, will they face prosecution? And if so, what laws will they be accused of breaking?

The occupiers protesting the federal government's ownership of lands have possibly trespassed, stolen government property, torn down fences and carried firearms where they're not supposed to -- relatively small-time offenses that could add up to significant time in jail.

But any repercussions could be slow in coming.

...Advocates for public lands -- and the rule of law -- are growing increasingly frustrated by what they see as lax enforcement of laws designed to protect the environment and federal employees. Bundy's standoff is viewed as a victory by right-wing extremists who may see little risk in challenging the government's domain over 640 million acres of public lands.

After Malheur, critics wonder what's to stop them from seizing another refuge.

"You can expect a lot more of these," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "They can call it 'Militia McDonald's.' They could just franchise it."

Neither the FBI, which is leading the law enforcement response, nor the Justice Department have said anything substantive about the occupation or whether charges will be filed. Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward has told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the FBI has assured him the militants will "at some point face charges."

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