Protest On Trial: Six defendants arrested during Disrupt J20 protests on Inauguration Day fighting felony charges in court

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Katie Aguilera

On November 20, 2017, trial began in Washington DC superior court for six defendants arrested during the protests that took place on Inauguration Day.  More than 200 people were arrested that day after a small number of protesters clashed with police, smashed windows, and committed other acts of property destruction.  Six police were injured, and an estimated $100,000.00 in damage resulted from the violence.

The six now on trial are the first of over 200 arrested on Inauguration day who have all been charged with felonies.  Those charges include conspiracy to riot, engaging in a riot, inciting a riot, and multiple property damage charges, and come with a maximum ten-year prison sentence for each count.  Some have already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and some have had the charges dropped.  But nearly 200 people still face felony convictions, and possible 60-year sentences, if found guilty.

The prosecution in this first trial has made it clear they don’t intend to prove that any of the six defendants personally caused any property damage or injury, but rather that all who face charges are guilty because they are all collectively responsible for the actions of a few.  US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff said in her opening statement, “though there is no evidence the defendants caused any of the damage directly, the government considers the entire group of protesters to be responsible.”

 “The prosecution is pursuing a somewhat unusual strategy: Rather than trying to prove that any of individual defendant was personally guilty of destruction, prosecutors are arguing that all demonstrators present that day were aware and supportive of the violent intentions of the others.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff, in her comments, has repeatedly referred to the ‘black bloc tactics’ of the protesters as part of a message that everyone participating in the protest came with either the intention to commit violence or the knowledge that violence was part of the plan.”

Ashraf Khalil, Associated Press November 21, 2017

The government is arguing that all of the defendants conspired to cause the violence and rioting, regardless of whether they participated in any advance planning.  They argue that the defendants intended for the property destruction and violence to occur even if they didn’t cause damage themselves.  They argue that by continuing to move together down the street as some in their midst engaged in criminal behavior, everyone arrested became responsible for the resulting damage.

This idea of collective liability is what makes this trial so important, and all Americans should be paying attention.  The mere act of charging so many, with the possibility of such severe punishment, threatens to stifle legitimate protest and first amendment activity.  If exercising one’s right to peacefully protest comes with the risk of felony charges for the criminal behavior of others, many will opt to stay home.  If these six are convicted, it sets a very dangerous precedent.

Kris Hermes, an organizer of a support group for the defendants called Defend J20, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “what the government is saying to us is, dissent is not an acceptable form of expression in this country, and if you choose to go out on the street and express yourself, then you risk being arrested and seriously prosecuted.”

Eoin Higgins wrote in an October 25, 2017 article for the Intercept, “by charging everyone together with conspiracy counts, the government seems intent on making an example of the J20 protesters.”  He also writes, “that the government’s case does not differentiate between actors and bystanders could be an indication of future clampdowns on protest.”

There are other very important aspects of this case, such as the tactics used during the arrests, the arrests of journalists covering the protests, the methods of evidence gathering employed in the months after the arrests, etc.  But the very fact that these defendants face these charges when there is no evidence they personally caused any damage should have us all very concerned.  Any threat to an individual’s first amendment right is a threat to all of our first amendment rights.

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

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Ammon Bundy released from prison, Cliven Bundy refuses release, and Ryan Payne granted release pending approval from Oregon judge

In what seems a sudden and surprising reversal of her prior denial of release for the Bundys and Ryan Payne as their trial proceeds in Nevada, Judge Gloria Navarro has granted release from prison for Cliven and Ammon Bundy, and Ryan Payne.  She had previously reversed her decision to deny Ryan Bundy release, allowing him to move to a halfway house on November 13, 2017.

This decision to release the defendants came after a sealed hearing, details of which are still not publicly available.

Ammon Bundy walked out of the courthouse early Thursday with his family to be greeted by a crowd of supporters and the press.

Cliven Bundy has refused the conditions of release, opting to remain in prison.  His attorney, Brett Whipple, stated, “to be released, he would have to agree to conditions.  In his opinion, he’s not willing to take a deal with the government when he hasn’t done anything wrong to begin with…. He’s very principled and he doesn’t want to violate those principals and I respect that.”

Ryan Payne was also granted release, pending approval from Judge Anna Brown in Oregon federal court.  Payne still faces sentencing in Oregon for his role in the 2016 Malheur Wildlife refuge occupation.  A hearing is scheduled for 3:00pm today (Friday) in the Portland federal courthouse.

The trial in Nevada is expected to resume December 11, 2017.

Update, 12/2/2017:  Ryan Payne was released Friday, 12/1/2017.  It looks as though there will be a release hearing for Dave and Mel Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, and Jason Woods on Monday.  Here are the conditions for release.

 

Rumors of release from custody for Bundys in Las Vegas

Rumors are flying today that Cliven, Ammon, Mel, and Dave Bundy, and Ryan Payne, will be released from custody today as their trial continues in Las Vegas.  Supporters of the Bundys have made Facebook posts such as this one and this one that appear to confirm the rumors.  This information comes after the court room spent the morning in a sealed hearing.

Fox 5 Las Vegas confirmed that Judge Navarro would release the defendants in a tweet this afternoon.

Update 1:36pm: this [that article appears to have been removed] article from Las Vegas Now confirms the Bundys are to be released for the duration of the trial.  It does not mention Ryan Payne.

12/1/2017: The above Las Vegas Now article appears to have been removed and that link no longer works.  Here is an Oregon Live article from 11/29/2017 with more details.

Shadow World, a documentary about global arms dealing, airs tonight

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Shadow World, a documentary based on the book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, by Andrew Feinstein, will air tonight, November 20, 2017, on Independent Lens on PBS.  I highly recommend watching it.  I also highly recommend reading the book.

Here is a portion of the description from the book’s cover:

“The Shadow World is the behind-the-scenes tale of the global arms trade, exposing in forensic detail the deadly collusion that all too often exists among senior politicians, weapons manufacturers, felonious arms dealers, and the military–a situation that compromises our security and undermines our democracy.

There is so much information in this book that is helpful to understanding what drives war and conflict around the world.  If the documentary includes even a fraction of that information, watching it will be an eye-opening experience.  Don’t miss it!

Bill introduced in the Senate to ban assault weapons

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A bill to ban the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of 205 military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines was introduced today by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and a number of other senators.

The announcement states, “We’re introducing an updated Assault Weapons Ban for one reason:  so that after every mass shooting with a military-style assault weapon, the American people will know that a tool to reduce these massacres is sitting in the Senate, ready for debate and a vote.”

It goes on to assert that the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 should have been extended in 2004, that it was, “just starting to show an effect when the NRA stymied its reauthorization.”

The bill “includes a grandfather clause that exempts all weapons lawfully possessed at the date of enactment.”

The bill would ban “any assault weapon that accepts a detachable ammunition magazine, and has one or more military characteristics including a pistol grip, a forward grip, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel, or a folding or telescoping stock.”  Also included in the ban, “magazines and other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds without needing to reload,” and “bump-fire stocks and other devices that allow semi automatic weapons to fire at fully automatic rates.”

Also, the bill would “require a background check on any future sale, trade, or gifting of an assault weapon covered by the bill,” and that “grandfathered assault weapons are stored using a secure gun storage or safety device like a trigger lock.”  The transfer of high-capacity magazines would also be prohibited.

Feinstein’s announcement states, “to my colleagues in Congress, I say do your job.”  (Just not this one).

 

Senator Rand Paul Speaks Some Truth in the Senate

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has called on Congress to end the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force.  Paul opened his speech on the senate floor by saying,

“I rise today to oppose unauthorized, undeclared, and unconstitutional war.  What we have today is basically unlimited war, anywhere, anytime, any place upon the globe.”

He went on to discuss the involvement of the US military in seven countries and the devastating results.  Death, destruction of infrastructure, destabilization, disease outbreaks, etc.  Paul also pointed out the toll that 16 years of nonstop war has had on US finances.

Paul concluded his statement by stating, “I hope senators will think long and hard about the seven ongoing wars…and go on the record to uphold their oath of office…and defend the constitution and it’s requirements with regard to war,” and “I hope they will finally vote to do their constitutional duty.  It is the least we can do to honor the service of our brave young soldiers.”

It’s the best thing they can do for the entire world.  And it’s long overdue.  So, yes, please Congress, do this.

Watch all of Sen. Paul’s speech here.

Oregon’s Greater sage-grouse management plan is being put to the test in Harney County

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Katie Aguilera

The Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District, or SWCD, won a national Landscape Stewardship Award in 2014 for their efforts in working with ranchers to improve greater sage-grouse habitat in the county.  Now, after the finalization of Oregon’s greater sage-grouse management plan, and months of seeking amendments to the plan, the ranchers and the Harney County SWCD have filed a lawsuit challenging the plan.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined in March, 2010, that the greater sage-grouse deserved protection under the Endangered Species Act due to a lack of protections for the bird’s sagebrush habitat.  However, after an unprecedented collaborative effort between various agencies, environmental groups, industry stakeholders, and private landowners to develop a plan that would protect the sage-grouse and its habitat, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined the greater sage-grouse no longer required protection under the Endangered Species Act.  Oregon governor Kate Brown signed an executive order in September 2015, enacting Oregon’s greater sage-grouse management plan.

This collaborative effort to develop a management plan that would protect the sage-grouse population while also protecting the interests of industries such as ranching, mining, and energy development has been celebrated as a model effort for conservation throughout western states, but many are left unhappy with the final result.  Ranchers in Harney County feel as though their efforts have been ignored.

Travis Williams, a fifth-generation Harney County rancher, said, “we collaborated with NRCS, helping with local individuals, put together conservation agreements, the CCAA’s, that were models to the nation, did a bunch of work to save the bird, and they came back to us, didn’t look at our local opinions on how to address this bird.  It was a slap in the face.”

The Natural Resource Conservation Service, or NRCS, an agency of the US Department of Agriculture, started the Sage Grouse Initiative, or SGI, which is a partnership of ranchers, agencies, universities, non-profit groups, and businesses that work to conserve the sage-grouse through sustainable ranching.  The initiative was launched in 2010 and works to fund conservation projects in 11 western states to preserve sage-grouse habitat.

Oregon is home to 6.3% of the known population of male greater sage-grouse range-wide, and holds 10.9% of the bird’s total habitat, according to the Bureau of Land Management.  The Sage Grouse Conservation Partnership, or SageCon, is a collaborative group similar to the SGI that is working in Oregon for the same goals.  One of the ways these groups have made progress is through Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, or CCAA’s.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a CCAA is a “formal agreement between the Service and one or more parties to address the conservation needs of proposed or candidate species, or species likely to become candidates, before they become listed as endangered or threatened.  Landowners voluntarily commit to conservation actions that will stabilize or restore the species with the goal that listing will become unnecessary.”  These agreements usually offer landowners some protection from future regulations in the event the species does become listed as threatened or endangered.

In Harney County, the SWCD worked as an intermediary between ranchers and the various land and wildlife management agencies to develop a CCAA.  Nearly 40 ranchers were willing to sign onto the CCAA, agreeing to a list of proactive changes to be made on private and public land in exchange for a 30-year delay to further regulations if the sage-grouse is listed as threatened or endangered.

Jeremy Austin, the Hart-Shelton coordinator for Oregon Natural Desert Association, or ONDA, says the Oregon sage-grouse management plan has great potential to reverse the decline of the sage-grouse population.  He said the collaborative effort set the gold standard for sage-grouse management in other areas, but its success will ultimately rely on how the plan is implemented.

Williams describes some of the changes he has made in his operations as being beneficial overall, saying, “what’s good for the cows is good for the wildlife.”  He has had contractors thinning juniper trees to prevent perches for sage-grouse predators, and this also results in more water for grazing forage.  He has been planting crested wheat grass, a non-native species that is more fire-resistant than native grasses, to create fire breaks which also help preserve forage for his cattle.

Williams said, “on our private land, we started fall grazing a lot more, combating invasive weeds and cheat grass, which I believe is working well.”  Invasive plant species are considered one of the greatest threats to sage-grouse due to the increased risk of habitat destruction through wildfire.  Grazing in the fall and winter months targets invasive grasses while most of the native perennial grasses are dormant.

While these changes have been positive over all, the ranchers still have concerns about many of the management plan’s requirements.  Both Austin of ONDA, and the ranchers, highlight the fact that this plan covers a vast amount of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, an agency they agree is hindered by a lack of personnel needed to complete all the necessary monitoring of the sage-grouse population and habitat.   Austin said this is one area where things might go wrong in the implementation of the plan as the BLM is limited in its staff.  The ranchers are concerned this will “provide a target rich environment for groups to challenge public land grazing.”

Harney County ranchers are not alone in their concerns, there are numerous federal court cases challenging the sage-grouse management plans developed in other western states filed by the livestock and mineral industries and by state and local governments.  A case has also been filed by a group of environmental organizations challenging the Idaho plan in federal court, arguing the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect the sage-grouse.

Williams said, “we finally have the chance to be on the offensive, and there’s mixed feelings in the county over that.  It’s becoming quite an issue, there’s some hard feelings right now.  But, they are going through with the litigation, the first money has been put out and got the lawyer hired, and it’s been filed in Washington [D.C.].”  He explained that one of the concerns raised against suing, saying, “some of the people that are against this litigation are saying we’re just opening it up for ONDA and these other groups to sue the BLM, but that’s going to happen anyway.”

Austin said the Oregon plan is really good compared to plans in other states, and he doesn’t see any lawsuits against it on ONDA’s horizon.  He added that ONDA will closely watch how the plan is implemented, but at this time he doesn’t see a need for environmental groups to challenge the plan in court.

The ranchers in Harney County believe the BLM violated its own procedures for land and resource management plan development under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, or FLPMA, and the National Environmental Policy Act by not considering the local alternative plan for protecting the sage-grouse.  According to Williams, “there are 11 points that should have been part of the decision, and the process, but were not.  They [BLM] are in direct violation of this process, their FLPMA documents state they need to coordinate with the local officials, but they haven’t.”

Oregon’s greater sage-grouse management plan will likely face even more challenges as its implementation takes effect.  The collaborative efforts to create a plan that works for all involved highlights both positive changes in land use, and the deep frustration felt by industries trying to survive under increasing regulations.  Williams expressed this frustration as he described the years of collaborative work.  “We tried to make them meet us in the middle.  With collaboration, you are kind of giving and taking, and we’ve been giving a lot more than we’ve been taking.  For years.”

 

Image courtesy of pixabay.com