Charges Brought Against Four Protesters Still Occupying Oregon Wildlife Refuge

Charges Brought Against Four Protesters Still Occupying Oregon Wildlife Refuge
A militiaman embraces Ammon Bundy (2nd R) after Bundy spoke to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, in this January 4, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/Files

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Four anti-government activists still occupying a U.S. wildlife refuge in Oregon have been indicted along with 12 others previously arrested on charges of conspiring to impede federal officers during a month-long armed standoff at the compound.

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Portland on Wednesday and unsealed on Thursday, supersedes an earlier criminal complaint in the case. It accuses protest leader Ammon Bundy and others of plotting to prevent by “force, intimidation, and threats” agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the performance of their duties.

The occupation began on Jan. 2, when Bundy and other followers took over buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon in a protest against federal control over millions of acres public land in the West.

The three-page indictment says the defendants brandished firearms and refused to leave the refuge, threatening violence against anyone who attempted to remove them. It also says they warned the local sheriff of “extreme civil unrest” if their demands were unmet, among other acts of intimidation.

Bundy struck a defiant tone in a recorded statement released by his lawyers from jail, where he said he has been held in solitary confinement.

“Taking over the refuge was not only right, it was the duty of the people to do,” Bundy said. “When government officials are acting contrary to the people, they must not get away with it.”

Bundy and 10 others were arrested last week in Oregon, most of them during a confrontation with FBI and state police on a snow-covered roadside where a spokesman for the group, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot to death. A 12th member of the group turned himself in to police in Arizona.

Two of those arrested have since been released on condition that they wear electronic tracking devices while awaiting trial, leaving 10 of the former protesters, including Bundy, still in custody.

Their immediate fate has been clouded by the four holdouts among the group, who joined the protest after it started but have so far refused to leave the refuge.

A judge has cited the continuing standoff as a major obstacle to the release of at least some of those who remain in custody. An attorney for arrested protester Jason Patrick, named in the indictment, referred to the holdouts as “four idiots” at odds with his client’s aims.

The defendants are due to be arraigned on Feb. 24.

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Frances Kerry and Tom Brown)