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 Oregon have surrendered, the FBI confirms.
The militia took over the refuge on January 2, protesting against government “interference” in the lives of ranchers in the western US.
The development comes hours after the FBI surrounded the group at the site.
In late January, one protester was shot dead when the FBI and police arrested the leaders of the occupation.
Just before 10:00 local time on February 11, three of the remaining four militia, Sandy Anderson, 47 of Riggins, Idaho; her husband Sean Anderson, 48 and Jeff Banta, 46 from Yerington, Nevada surrendered and walked into the custody of the FBI.
David Fry, 27, who remained holed-up, said he was feeling “suicidal”.
“Liberty or death,” he said.
David Fry added: “I declare war against the federal government because they have been trampling on my first amendment rights.”
On a live broadcast streamed on the internet, David Fry described how the others had walked out with hands in the air, holding an American flag.
An hour later, to cries of “hallelujah”, David Fry could be heard saying: “I’m walking towards them right now,” as he too surrendered to the FBI.
The four had spent their last night at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, camping in the grounds around 30 miles south of the city of Burns on the snowy desert plains of Harney County in north-eastern Oregon.
The attempt to resolve the stand-off was brokered by a Republican member of Nevada’s state assembly, Michele Fiore, who travelled to the bird reserve to witness the surrender along with a preacher, Franklin Graham.
In the final moments of the siege, activists KrisAnne Hall and Gavin Seim pleaded with David Fry to give himself up.
David Fry’s arrest brings the 41-day occupation of the federal complex to an end.
The FBI said in a statement that “no one was injured, and no shots were fired” during the arrests on February 11.
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.