Closing arguments under way in Oregon wildlife refuge standoff trial

The trial of a man who led a standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge has raised many complicated issues, some of them political.

But federal prosecutor Ethan Knight told a jury Tuesday during closing arguments that the case comes down to common sense and one simple fact: “They made a choice to take over someone else’s workplace.”

Ammon Bundy and six co-defendants have been charged with conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by seizing the refuge Jan 2 and occupying it for 41 days.

Knight reminded jurors the case isn’t about land policy in the U.S. West, a 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch or what Ammon Bundy considered to be an unjust sentence for two ranchers convicted of arson.

Those are all issues Bundy has raised or tried to raise in his defense.

“They decided to pick and choose the rules and laws that apply and take over property that didn’t belong to them,” Knight said.

While Knight stood at a lectern to address the jurors, most of the defendants and their lawyers looked straight ahead toward U.S. District Judge Anna Brown.

The exception was Bundy, who backed his chair away from the defense table, swiveled to the left and looked at Knight and the jury for two hours.

Bundy’s attorney, Marcus Mumford, followed Knight, delivering a four-hour argument that included civics-related quotes from former president Woodrow Wilson, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and other figures from the past.

Mumford said Bundy and his fellow occupiers made a peaceful stand — but a determined one– against what they saw as federal government overreach in the prosecution of Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.

“The problem wasn’t with the employees,” Mumford said. “It was with their employer, the federal government. It won’t respect its limits.”

Mumford reiterated many points that Bundy made when he testified for three days earlier this month, including that the presence of firearms ensured the protest wouldn’t be immediately stormed by armed federal agents.

The lawyer said the plan was to take ownership of the refuge by adverse possession, occupying it for years and then turning it over to local officials.

Mumford said Bundy expected government officials to dispute the claim, and that would force them to prove in court they have proper title to the land.

As part of that effort, Mumford said, the protesters made improvements to the refuge and didn’t trash the place as the government claims.

He displayed a photo of an occupier with a broom, supposedly sweeping up rat feces that government workers had allowed to build over time.

“Is it a conspiracy to clean up rat poop?” Mumford asked. “Or it is responsible.”

Knight said in his argument that the plan to stake a claim through adverse possession proves there was a conspiracy.

The prosecutor said the conspiracy started two months before the armed takeover, when Bundy and another out-of-state activist met with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and vowed there would be civil unrest if the sheriff didn’t protect the Hammonds from returning to prison.

Lawyers for the other six defendants will present their closing arguments Wednesday. One defendant, Ammon Bundy’s older brother Ryan, is acting as his own attorney. He plans to address the jury for an hour.

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