Ammon Bundy, testifying in his own defense, said his religion and the U.S. Constitution helped guide his actions in the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
PORTLAND — In a second day of testimony in his own defense, Ammon Bundy offered no regrets about leading a Jan. 2 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, asserting he was guided by religious beliefs and the U.S. Constitution
“I still believe very strongly that what we did was the right thing, and that it was legal,” Bundy told jurors in U.S. District Court.
The trial is expected to wrap up this month, and jurors then will decide whether Bundy and six co-defendants were involved in a conspiracy to prevent federal employees — “by force, intimidation and threats” — from carrying out their duties at the refuge and elsewhere in Harney County, Ore.
The judge has told the jury to use Bundy’s statements not to decide whether his conduct was legal, but to understand his state of mind. In testimony that consumed most of Wednesday, jurors got a big dose of that, with prosecutors yet to cross-examine Bundy.
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Bundy is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, involved in his own 2014 standoff with federal officials over grazing rights. That standoff ended with the government releasing the family cattle, an action that Ammon Bundy testified enabled him to see “rights restored.”
Ammon Bundy has been jailed since his Jan. 26 arrest outside the refuge in a federal law-enforcement action that also resulted in the shooting death of rancher LaVoy Finicum.
Bundy on Wednesday testified that, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he viewed the U.S. Constitution as a divinely inspired document. While on the witness stand, he kept a pocket copy tucked into his blue prison shirt.
During his testimony, he asserted — as he had repeatedly during the occupation — that the federal government had been involved in an unconstitutional takeover of the Malheur Refuge. He said his takeover was intended to return the land to local control, and support two Oregon ranchers — Dwight Hammond and his son Steven Hammond — whom a federal judge ordered back to prison to serve longer sentences on arson convictions.
The Malheur occupation began two days before the Hammonds reported back to prison and went on for 41 days, morphing into a broader protest against federal land policies in the West.
The federal government has alleged a conspiracy going back to as early as Nov. 5. On that day, Bundy was in Harney County and met with Sheriff Dave Ward to talk about the Hammonds’ case, and warned “of extreme civil unrest if certain demands weren’t met,” according to the government indictment.
Bundy testified he eventually saw there had to be a “hard stand” taken to support the Hammonds. But, he testified, the decision to take over the refuge was not made until Jan. 2, hours before the action began, as he met with others at Ye Olde Castle coffee shop in Burns, Ore.
Bundy said the meeting was not a secret gathering, and that a deputy sheriff was in attendance.
“I proposed that we go into the refuge and basically take possession, and give it back to the people,” Bundy said.