A federal court jury delivered a surprise verdict on Thursday acquitting anti-government militant leader Ammon Bundy and six followers of conspiracy charges stemming from their role in the armed takeover of a wildlife center in Oregon earlier this year.
The outcome marked a stinging defeat for federal prosecutors and law enforcement in a trial the defendants sought to turn into a pulpit for airing their opposition to U.S. government control over millions of acres of public lands in the West.
Bundy and others, including his brother and co-defendant Ryan Bundy, cast the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a patriotic act of civil disobedience. Prosecutors called it a lawless scheme to seize federal property by force.
Jubilant supporters of the Bundys thronged the courthouse after the verdict, hailing the trial's outcome as vindication of a political ideology that is profoundly distrustful of federal authority and challenges its legitimacy.
"We're so grateful to the jurors who weren't swayed by the nonsense that was going on," defendant Shawna Cox told reporters. "God said we weren't guilty. We weren't guilty of anything."
As the seven-week-long trial in the U.S. District Court in Portland climaxed, U.S. marshals wrestled to the floor Ammon Bundy's lawyer, Marcus Mumford, as he argued heatedly with the judge over the terms of his client's continued detention.
The Bundys still face assault, conspiracy and other charges from a separate armed standoff in 2014 at the Nevada ranch of their father, Cliven Bundy, triggered when federal agents seized his cattle for his failure to pay grazing fees for his use of public land.
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