The leaders of an armed group who seized a national wildlife refuge in rural Oregon were acquitted Thursday in their 41-day standoff, the AP reports. A jury found brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy not guilty of possessing a firearm in a federal facility and conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Five co-defendants were tried on one or both of the charges. The brothers are part of a Nevada ranching family embroiled in a lengthy fight over the use of public range, and their occupation drew an international spotlight to a uniquely American West dispute: federal restrictions on ranching, mining and logging to protect the environment.
At trial, the case was seemingly open-and-shut. There was no dispute the group seized the refuge, established armed patrols and vetted those who visited. On technical grounds, the defendants said they never discussed stopping individual workers from accessing their offices but merely wanted the land and the buildings. On emotional grounds, Ammon Bundy and other defendants argued that the takeover was an act of civil disobedience against an out-of-control federal government that has crippled the rural West. Federal prosecutors took two weeks to present their case, finishing with a display of more than 30 guns seized after the standoff. An FBI agent testified that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings were found.