The Oregon militia members who occupied a wildlife refuge in protest of the government could face decades in prison under a set of new criminal charges, including firearm offenses, theft of public property and damaging a Native American archaeological site.
Federal prosecutors in Portland have greatly expanded their case against brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and more than a dozen defendants who participated in the armed takeover of the Malheur national wildlife refuge in the high-profile standoff that began 2 January and dragged on for 41 days in rural Oregon.
Last month, after the final four occupiers surrendered to the FBI, officialsarrested and charged a total of 25 people for their roles in the armed anti-government demonstration on public lands controlled by the federal government.
The rightwing activists, who traveled from across the US to protest the government’s land-use restrictions in the west, are all accused of using “force, intimidation and threats” to conspire against and impede government officials – a federal felony offense that carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.
But on Wednesday, prosecutors unveiled a slew of new charges against 19 of the 25 defendants in the case – an indication that the federal government plans to aggressively target the protesters, some of whom could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted of all the offenses.
In a newly unsealed grand jury indictment, 19 of them are now also charged with possessing firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities – an offense that could carry up to five years in prison.
Nine of those defendants are also facing new charges of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a violent crime – an offense that mandates a minimum sentence of five years. That charge carries a similar mandatory minimum as the offense that led to the prosecution and imprisonment of two Oregon rancherswhose case inspired the Malheur standoff.
In addition to the Bundy brothers, militia members Jon Ritzheimer, Ryan Payne, Brian Cavalier, Jason Patrick, Sean Anderson, David Fry and Corey Lequieu are facing both of the additional firearm charges.
Occupier Kenneth Medenbach, the first man arrested in connection with the standoff in January, is facing an additional charge of stealing government property. He was caught driving a US Fish and Wildlife Service vehicle out of the refuge and into the local town of Burns. Because the truck is worth more than $1,000, that charge could land him 10 years behind bars.
Ryan Bundy and Ritzheimer are also facing the same government theft charge for their use of “cameras and related equipment” owned by the federal government.
Anderson, who was one of the final protesters at the refuge, is accused of “depredation of government property” for his “excavation” of refuge land, including damaging an “archaeological site considered sacred” to the Burns Paiute tribe, which is the local Native American group whose ancestors originallyoccupied the land.
Throughout the occupation, local tribal leaders lamented the potential damage protesters may be causing to burial grounds and important artifacts. FBI investigators recently revealed that they discovered significant amounts of human feces in trenches dug on grounds the tribe considers sacred.
Anderson could face 10 years for the additional destruction charge.
Ammon, Ryan and five other men are facing charges in the Oregon case and in aseparate federal case in Nevada centered on their father Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the federal government in 2014 at the Bundy family’s ranch.