PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — National wildlife refuge occupier Ryan Bundy twice referenced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during his closing argument Wednesday, and he told jurors to “stand for freedom” and find him not guilty.
Bundy, 43, is among seven defendants being tried on a charge of conspiring to impede federal workers from doing their jobs during last winter’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Thursday, capping a six-week trial.
Acting as his own attorney, Bundy quoted the civil rights leader at the beginning and toward the end of his hourlong argument, saying injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Bundy said that explains why he joined the protest in support of two ranchers he believes were wrongly imprisoned. He said federal government overreach not only put ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond behind bars, it imperils the economies of places such as Harney County, where the Hammond ranch and the refuge are located.
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He said the county — nearly 10 times the size of Rhode Island — has gone from a jewel to “the biggest weed patch in the country,” and it’s because the federal government controls most of the land and restricts logging and ranching.
Because there is no doubt the occupation occurred, Bundy repeatedly appealed to the jurors’ sense of justice, essentially saying a minor infraction is justified for the greater good.
“At some point the people have to insist that the government is not our master,” he said. “They are our servants, and we have given them a duty.”
The refuge takeover began during a Jan. 2 rally in support of the Hammonds and lasted nearly six weeks.
Bundy and other key figures, including his younger brother, Ammon, were arrested during a Jan. 26 traffic stop that ended with Oregon State Police fatally shooting occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
The government gave its closing statement Tuesday, with federal prosecutor Ethan Knight asserting it is “inherently intimidating” to have your workplace taken over by an armed group that doesn’t like you.
Ryan Bundy did not deny taking over workspaces that belonged to U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Bureau of Land Management employees. But, as the defendants have repeatedly said, there was no conspiracy to prevent them from going to work.
“We didn’t know their names, their tasks. We didn’t know whose seat we were sitting in, and we didn’t care,” Bundy said.
That may sound callous, Bundy told jurors, but “our purpose was so beyond such considerations.”
One of Bundy’s co-defendants, Shawna Cox, also represented herself during the trial. On Wednesday, she let her standby counsel, Tiffany Harris, handle her closing statement.
Harris hit on similar points as Bundy, talking about the economic travails of Harney County. She said the government wants to sell a story that outsiders came to Burns and stirred up trouble.
“The problem was already there,” Harris said.
The conspiracy charge faced by the seven defendants is punishable by up to six years in prison. Harris emphasized to jurors that the government picks and chooses who to prosecute and how serious a charge to file.
Hinting at the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency, she said “administrations change” and there may come a time when urban liberals feel the need to take a hard stand, and not simply go home after a rally.