The leaders of an armed militia who led a 41-day stand-off at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon have been cleared of the charges against them.
The surprise verdict acquitted the seven men of conspiracy and firearms offences.
A lawyer for Ammon Bundy was tackled to the ground by marshals after shouting at the judge.
The militia occupied the refuge in early January, accusing the government of unlawful interference in the affairs of ranchers.
Image source Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office
One protester was shot dead by police during a confrontation outside the refuge when some of the defendants were arrested, days before the occupation was brought to a peaceful end in February.
The stand-off highlighted the simmering resentment among rural communities in the West over federal control of land.
A total of 26 people have been charged over the stand-off. Some have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
A second group of defendants is due to stand trial in February.
Prosecutors argued the defendants, led by Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan, had kept federal employees from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
However, defense lawyers say the jury was unable to find beyond reasonable doubt that the occupiers had intended to prevent federal officers from going to work.
Drama erupted in the courtroom after Ammon Bundy’s defense lawyer Marcus Mumford shouted at the judge, demanding the immediate release of his client. As the exchange escalated, court marshals tackled him to the ground and used a stun gun on him.
Judge Anna Brown said Ammon Bundy could not be released because he and his brother still faced charges in a separate armed stand-off case at their father’s ranch in Nevada in 2014.
Lawyers for the defendants expressed their surprise at the verdict, including Robert Salisbury who described it as a “stunning victory for the defense”.
Alongside the Bundy brothers, Jeff Banta, Neil Wampler, Kenneth Medenbach, David Fry and Shawna Cox were all cleared of the charges.
During the occupation , the group established armed patrols and vetted those who visited the refuge. They said the takeover was a justified act of civil disobedience against an overreaching federal government.
After several weeks one of the protesters, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot dead during a 26 January traffic stop outside the refuge as the Bundy brothers and several others were detained.
After the acquittals, US Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy Williams said he had “hoped for a different outcome”.
However, he said he strongly believed the case needed to be brought before a court and decided by a jury.
The FBI also said it was “extremely disappointed in the verdict”.
The last four occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon are preparing to surrender, a member of the group says.
Sean Anderson said they would leave the complex on Thursday morning, February 11, in a live broadcast on the internet.
Earlier, the FBI moved in on the group, which had been entrenched for 40 days.
The occupiers are protesting against federal government control of local land. One activist died in an earlier confrontation with police.
Agents were placed behind barricades near the self-styled militia’s encampment, an FBI statement said.
All four of the militia – a husband and wife and two other men – were said to be present during a discussion, broadcast live online, about how they would put down their weapons and walk out of the refuge at 08:00 local time.
They will meet a Nevada lawmaker, Michele Fiore, and a preacher who are travelling to meet them.
Michele Fiore, a Republican member of the Nevada state assembly, was also on the live conference call.
She said that the FBI had “given us their word that they are going to stand down tonight” on the understanding that the four would leave the complex in the morning.
As well as Sean Anderson, 48, the other occupiers have been named as Sandy Anderson, 47; David Fry, 27; Jeff Banta, 46.
The four had refused to leave despite the arrest of the group’s leader Ammon Bundy last month. He has urged those remaining to stand down.
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was seized early in January. The armed takeover was sparked by the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers accused of burning federal land.
It developed into a wider protest demanding the return of government-controlled land to locals.
Ammon Bundy and others were arrested late in January in a confrontation with police that left one of the activists, LaVoy Finicum, dead.
The FBI said its agents moved in on the four on February 10 after one of them drove a vehicle outside barricades erected by the group.
“We reached a point where it became necessary to take action in a way that best ensured the safety of those on the refuge, the law enforcement officers who are on scene, and the people of Harney Count,” the statement said.
The FBI has released footage of the shooting of Oregon militiaman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
LaVoy Finicum was killed by police on January 26.
The video shows the militiaman reached for a handgun before he was shot.
LaVoy Finicum was a key player in an armed anti-government protest at a wildlife reserve in the state.
The footage released by the FBI shows Robert Finicum’s vehicle careering into a snowbank in an attempt to avoid a roadblock.
It comes to a stop after narrowly missing a police officer and LaVoy Finicum steps out. After briefly raising his hands, he appears to reach for his pocket, where the gun was reportedly later found, and is shot dead.
The white pickup truck carrying LaVoy Finicum (it is not clear if he was driving) was stopped on Oregon’s Highway 395 on Tuesday afternoon in a joint operation between the FBI and Oregon State Police.
A jeep was also stopped. The two vehicles contained members of an armed militia which earlier this month occupied the Malheur national wildlife refuge in protest over sentences handed to two local ranchers convicted of arson.
Both cars were initially stopped. Ammon Bundy – the leader of the occupation – stepped out of one vehicle along with another protester, Brian Cavalier, and the driver, who has not been named. Ammon Bundy and Brian Cavalier were arrested.
Ryan Payne, another member of the occupation, exited the white pickup but LaVoy Finicum remained inside. About three minutes later, the white pickup sped off, with police in pursuit.
It then crashed into a snow bank in an attempt to clear the roadblock and LaVoy Finicum was shot. Three other occupants of the vehicle exited after police fired a tear gas-like substance inside. They were Ammon Bundy’s brother Ryan, Shawna Cox and another woman who has not been named.
Once they had been held by police, officers gave medical attention to LaVoy Finicum, some 10 minutes after he had been shot. Three more loaded guns were found in the vehicle, the FBI says.
Greg Bretzing, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said the agency had decided to release the full, unedited video “in the interest of transparency”.
Four people remain at the wildlife reserve, near the city of Burns, Greg Bretzing said.
Several people have left since Ammon Bundy, speaking through his lawyer on January 27, urged the remaining protesters to stand down.
Greg Bretzing said: “I want to acknowledge the stress and disruption that the occupation of the refuge has caused has to the people of Harney County. We know this is difficult. We know that you want this concluded as soon as possible. We are doing everything we can to bring this to a resolution safely and quickly.”
Ammon Bundy, the leader of an armed militia which has occupied a wildlife refuge in Oregon, has been arrested, police say.
One person has been killed in the shootout.
Ammon Bundy and four others were arrested during a traffic stop. One person was injured. Three others were held in separate incidents.
The militia occupied the refuge on January 2 to support two ranchers jailed for setting fire to federal land.
They say the government has taken land illegally from ranchers for decades.
Other members of the group were reportedly still at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, where the FBI was setting up a perimeter.
FBI officials said in a statement that Ammon Bundy, 40, was arrested in a traffic stop on Highway 395 along with his brother Ryan Bundy, 43, Bryan Cavalier, 44, Shawna Cox, 59, and Ryan Walen Payne, 32.
Two other activists connected to the group, Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, 45, and Peter Santilli, 50, were later arrested, separately, in Burns, Oregon.
According to the FBI, each of the defendants faces a charge of conspiracy to impede police from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.
According to TheOregonian newspaper, Ammon Bundy was en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker, when authorities stopped his vehicle.
According to the newspaper, Ryan Bundy was injured in the arrest, suffering a minor gunshot wound. Authorities did not release the identity of the person killed.
However, local media named the man as Arizona native Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a regular spokesman for the group.
His daughter, Arianna Finicum Brown, told The Oregonian he was a “good, good man, through and through”.
Some 25 miles of Highway 395 was shut in both directions following the incident, local officials said.
Another occupier of the refuge, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, surrendered to police in Arizona on January 26.
In October 2015, a federal judge ruled the sentences on two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, for burning federal land were too short and jailed them for about four years each.
Angered by the ruling, Nevada native Ammon Bundy began a social media campaign backing them and travelled to Burns, Oregon, organizing meetings.
Ammon Bundy’s group attracted supporters from across a number of states and he called it Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. On January 2, the armed militiamen took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge – and widened the range of demands.
It is an extension of the Sagebrush Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s that demanded the transfer of federal land in many western states to local control.
Ammon Bundy’s own father – a Nevada rancher – had been involved in a protest over cattle-grazing rights in 2014. One policy is to try to persuade ranchers to tear up their federal grazing contracts.
Although many local residents are sympathetic with its cause, many also oppose the occupation of the refuge. Even the local ranchers who are serving the longer sentences distanced themselves from the militia.
The militia term has a complex history and generally refers to those outside the official military who can be called on in times of need. The US Constitution refers to the president having command of “militia of several states” and that Congress “can call forth militia” to tackle insurrection and invasion.
Those who form such militias cite the constitution and various references in federal and state law as granting them legality.