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In a decision met by emotional reactions both in the courtroom and throughout the Western U.S., a jury on Thursday acquitted leaders of an armed group that spent 41 days occupying an Oregon federal wildlife refuge early this year.
Kanab's Shawna Cox said she cried as she heard the verdict that acquitted her and six others.
Moments later, when Ammon and Ryan Bundy were remanded to the custody of U.S. Marshals for their roles in another armed standoff, Utah-based attorney Marcus Mumford demanded their release and was wrestled to the floor and shot with a stun gun by U.S. marshals.
A remnant of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1970s, the Bundy family's battle for control of federal lands has led to the most visible and dramatic actions in a broader dispute about restrictions on traditional Western lifestyles like ranching, mining and logging. First came a decadeslong impasse near Bunkerville, Nev., that resulted in an armed showdown in April 2014, then, starting Jan. 2, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Arden Bundy, 18, said Thursday's acquittals led to a joyful scene at Ammon and Ryan's childhood home.
"Here at the Bundy Ranch, we are partying it up," Arden Bundy said by phone. "This is a big step, not just up there, but for the people down here in Nevada. Knowing that they let them go scot-free, it's going to ... be a big influence on the people down here."
Conservationists had the same thought, and a very different reaction.
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of Western Priorities, said in a news release that the verdict "puts our park rangers and scientists at further risk just for doing their jobs." Said WildEarth Guardians Director John Horning: "I fear this ruling will embolden other militants to use the threat of violence."
Arden Bundy said he had been "a little worried" while the jury repeatedly sought guidance during deliberations, with one juror dismissed after others complained that the juror had admitted bias as a former Bureau of Land Management employee.
Bundy regarded the charges his brothers faced in Oregon as tougher to beat than those faced by his father, Cliven Bundy, and four brothers in a February 2017 trial in Nevada. Ammon and Ryan Bundy admitted that they seized the refuge and established armed patrols, Arden said. Still, the jury found them not guilty of possessing a firearm on federal property and conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs.
"My family's coming home," he said, where his father's cattle still roam southeastern Nevada in defiance of a federal order.
"I hope a lot of [Western ranchers] start realizing that they need to join with us, and that there's nothing to be scared of that a law's a law, and you can't change the Constitution," Arden Bundy said.
Robert Salisbury, attorney for defendant Jeff Banta, told The Associated Press that the acquittals were "stunning."
"I'm speechless," he said.
Conservationists, meanwhile, were unanimous in denouncing the verdict as an unnerving precedent.
Kieran Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Associated Press that it troubled anyone who cares about public lands, the rights of native people and "a political system that refuses to be bullied by violence and racism."
Cox, who wrote a book about the 2014 standoff and represented herself in Portland, said prosecutors were particularly determined to convict the Bundy brothers.
The jury, she said, "has restored our faith in the judicial system. ... I pray that [people] understand that God gives us rights, not the government. The government doesn't have any rights."
Yet Mumford's detention provided an abrupt turn to the emotions, Cox said. Amanda Mendenhall, an attorney who worked on the case, said other lawyers from the defense team called her from the Portland courtroom as it occurred.
"As he was arguing with [U.S. District Judge Anna Brown] about the reasons the judge didn't have jurisdiction and should let Ammon go, [Mumford] started to raise his voice," Mendenhall said over the phone from Salt Lake City. "The judge told him not to raise his voice, and the marshals started to descend on Marcus."
The judge did not order Mumford into custody, she said, and in fact had told the officers to stand down.
"They did not comply," Mendenhall said, adding that tensions have been high during the case and that courthouse security had been increased for the trial.
Mumford was detained by federal officers and released Thursday evening, said Utah-based attorney Morgan Philpot, who was in the courtroom during the altercation and told The Tribune by phone that it was "symbolic of out-of-control, overly violent federal government."
Said Cox: "It was terrible. Here, we win, and I'm in tears because I'm so happy, and suddenly they make a big issue and take him to the ground because he's trying to defend his clients."
The 26 occupiers were charged with conspiracy, among other counts. Eleven pleaded guilty including Manti's Wesley Kjar and seven chose to be tried at a later date including Provo's Dylan Wade Anderson. That trial, like the Bunkerville trial, is scheduled for February.
Anderson declined comment when reached at his Provo residence, but his mother, Jean Clay, said she was "very happy."
Prosecutors displayed more than 30 guns seized during the standoff, and an FBI agent testified that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings were found at the refuge.
The defense countered that occupiers never stopped workers from accessing their offices as they protested federal overreach that they say was destroying generations-old family businesses. Without guns, Ammon Bundy testified, they would have been arrested immediately or vulnerable to government attack.
The group's actions were an extenuation of a nearby protest against the enforcement of mandatory minimum prison sentences for local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of setting fires on federal land.
Ammon Bundy and Arizona Strip rancher LaVoy Finicum who reportedly left to support the Hammonds with only a daypack regularly addressed media and urged like-minded viewers to join them at the remote refuge.
Salt Lake City gun rights activist Janalee Tobias was among those to visit, and she testified earlier this month.
She didn't notice any damage to the refuge, she told jurors, and small-town ranchers likely weren't aware of the impression that they'd create by carrying "ugly" long guns, she said.
Thursday night's verdict, Tobias said, was "incredible."
"They were out in the middle of nowhere on a wildlife refuge, and media from around the world came to hear what these small-town ranchers had to say. They stood their ground."
Ryan and Ammon Bundy are among 19 charged for their role in the Nevada standoff, where federal law enforcement said they relinquished Cliven Bundy's cattle to avoid a massive shootout with Bundy and his supporters.
Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon police after he veered off the road to avoid a roadblock on Jan. 26. A week after his Kanab funeral, four holdouts turned themselves in and ended the occupation.
Tribune reporters Courtney Tanner and Jennifer Dobner contributed to this story, which relies on information from The Associated Press.