Sunday, February 14, 2016

DOJ drops hammer on Bundys, occupants -- and copycats

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

The FBI's top official in Oregon yesterday had a clear message to anyone who tries to copy Ammon Bundy's illegal occupation of a national wildlife refuge: You will be punished.

The Justice Department over the past month has arrested or indicted more than two dozen people involved in the 40-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

In the end, DOJ arrested and charged not only the kingpins of the occupation, but also roughly a dozen smaller players who did not appear to have any leadership role.

That might have been a strategy to get the underlings to incriminate their bosses in exchange for a plea bargain, experts said.

"It's called turning them," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "You get the foot soldier to turn on the lieutenant, the lieutenant to turn on the capo and the capo to turn on the don."

PEER has criticized DOJ's response to the Bunkerville standoff. And while Ruch lauded the government's arrest of Cliven Bundy, he noted that the criminal complaint against him did not target his grazing violations. It instead cited assault on federal law enforcement officials, use of weapons and obstruction of justice, among others.

It's unclear whether Bundy's arrest or the crackdown at Malheur will deter public lands users who oppose federal land management from flouting natural resources protection laws in protest, he said.  At least nine ranchers in Utah and New Mexico in the past month have vowed to stop paying their grazing fees or to comply with BLM or Forest Service restrictions.

"They will feel emboldened," Ruch said, "knowing that BLM will feel reluctant to even impose light regulation for fear of creating confrontation."

But the FBI's decision to arrest Bundy after he landed in Portland, Ore., when he was sure to be unarmed, was smart, Ruch said.

In the days ahead, as extremists seethe over the death of Finicum and as some conservative activists lionize the refuge occupants, the government needs to keep a watchful eye for violent anti-federal activities, Ruch said.

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