Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five of their followers, charged in the armed takeover of a federally owned Oregon wildlife sanctuary in January, were acquitted Thursday of federal conspiracy and weapons charges.
The verdict brings to a close a case that gripped the nation earlier this year with its public debate about government powers, public lands and constitutional rights.
There was a Wild West quality to the episode, with armed men in cowboy hats taking on federal agents in a tussle over public lands and putting out a call for aid, only to see their insurrection fizzle.
In a monthlong trial here, the defendants never denied that they had occupied and held the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters for nearly six weeks, demanding that the federal government surrender the 188,000-acre property to local control. But their lawyers argued that prosecutors did not prove that the group had engaged in an illegal conspiracy that kept federal workers — employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management — from doing their jobs.
Police in riot gear faced off with protesters on horseback as the monthslong protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline came to a head Thursday.
At least 24 protesters have been arrested since law enforcement Humvees and helicopters began to flood the area to break up a protester encampment near the pipeline’s path.
Calling themselves “water protectors,” supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe set up tents and teepees on the land, which they said belongs to the tribe under a 19-century treaty.
But authorities said they are trespassing on pipeline property. Officials brought in reinforcements from seven states to remove protesters and dismantle illegal roadblocks made of hay bales and wood.
As the standoff continued into Thursday afternoon, police deployed bean bag rounds and pepper spray gas and unleashed a high-pitched siren to disperse the crowd. Debris on a bridge caught fire, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air.