In order to protest federal land policy, armed protesters occupied a remote bird sanctuary in Oregon’s high desert earlier this year.
On Tuesday the opening statements are set to begin in the federal trial of seven protesters, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, part of a Nevada Bundy ranching family.
The defendants are charged with “conspiring to impede Interior Department employees from doing their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through intimidation or threats.” Five of the defendants are also being charged with possession of a firearm in a federal facility.
The takeover started Jan. 2 as a protest against the imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires and quickly grew into demands for the U.S. government to turn public lands over to locals.
For several weeks protesters came and went as they pleased, but it ended when the Bundys were arrested in a Jan. 26 traffic stop that included the fatal shooting by police of occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
The defendants say that they lawfully used their First Amendment rights to engage in a peaceful protest. They repeatedly mention that the only shots fired during the 41-day occupation of the bird sanctuary were the rounds fired by police at Finicum.
A total of 26 people were charged with conspiracy. Eleven have pleaded guilty, charges were dropped against another man, and seven defendants sought and received a delay in their trial, which is now scheduled for February.
The jury for this case includes eight women and four men from throughout Oregon and the trial is expected to last until November.
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