RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment
Print

Gumbel writes: "Conventional wisdom has it that defendants never catch a break in US federal court: the conviction rate last year was more than 95%. But it seems those odds improve if, like the leaders of last winter's armed standoff at the Malheur national wildlife refuge in Oregon, you are part of the radical anti-government right."

Defendant Shawna Cox speaks at left as supporters hug outside federal court in Portland, Oregon, on Thursday. (photo: Don Ryan/AP)
Defendant Shawna Cox speaks at left as supporters hug outside federal court in Portland, Oregon, on Thursday. (photo: Don Ryan/AP)


How the Oregon Militia Acquittals Reflect the Influence of White Nationalist Agitators

By Andrew Gumbel, Guardian UK

29 October 16

 

The verdicts mark for the third time in 28 years that a high-profile federal case begs the question – do far-right anti-government radicals evoke sympathies among jurors that other defendants do not?

onventional wisdom has it that defendants never catch a break in US federal court: the conviction rate last year was more than 95%. But it seems those odds improve if, like the leaders of last winter’s armed standoff at the Malheur national wildlife refuge in Oregon, you are part of the radical anti-government right.

The clamorous decision by a Portland jury to acquit the Bundy brothers, Ammon and Ryan, and five others on conspiracy and firearms charges on Thursday night marks the third time in 28 years that a high-profile federal case involving armed anti-government agitators has collapsed.

In each case, questions have arisen whether white nationalist agitators evoked sympathies among jurors that other defendants do not.

Four years ago, an attempt to charge members of the Hutaree Christian militia in Michigan with sedition ended in similar embarrassment for the government after the judge said there was no evidence the five defendants intended to attack anyone, much less murder a police officer and ambush his funeral as the prosecution alleged.

In 1988, another sedition trial in Fort Smith, Arkansas – this one featuring a rogue’s gallery of more than a dozen of America’s most visible far-right anti-government luminaries, some of them already serving long sentences for violent crimes – also led to acquittals all around, not to mention the marriage of a juror to one of the defendants.

In the wake of the Portland verdict, some civil rights advocates and anti-gun activists were quick to suggest a double standard when it comes to civil disobedience and attitudes to gun ownership.

“Apparently it’s legal in America for heavily armed white terrorists to invade Oregon,” the former TV talk show host Montel Williams wrote on Twitter. “Imagine if some black folk did this.”

On the other side of the political fence, others suggested the prosecutors may simply have overreached. Sedition is notoriously hard to prove and the charge has been leveled only a handful of times since the founding of the republic for that reason. In the Oregon case, one juror said he would have had no problem convicting the defendants of trespassing but the conspiracy charge, which carries much stiffer penalties, was a stretch.

In an age of anti-establishment anger, jurors also appear to have been swayed by the sheer confidence of the prosecuting attorneys.

“The air of triumphalism that the prosecution brought was not lost on any of us,” juror four wrote to the Oregonian newspaper, “nor was it warranted given their burden of proof.”

Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League, one of America’s foremost authorities on right-wing extremism, said he could only imagine that courtroom dynamics along these lines had undone what had otherwise seemed like a very strong government case.

“I was hardly alone in thinking that,” he said. “The mere fact that many of the standoff defendants entered into plea deals rather than go to trial suggests that they and their attorneys also felt the government had a very strong case.”

There was similar incredulity at the not guilty verdicts in Fort Smith in 1988, as analysts pondered how the government could possibly lose a case against leaders and foot soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations, among other organizations, some of whom had previously been proven to have robbed banks and armored trucks, killed people, and openly called for the violent overthrow of the government.

On that occasion, the jury’s sympathy for the defendants was clear. One female juror started up a romance with defendant David Lane, previously convicted of murdering a talk-radio host in Denver. Another female juror ended up marrying David McGuire, charged with plotting to kill an FBI agent and a federal judge.

It didn’t help that the judge dispensed with standard jury selection and hand-picked an all-white panel over the objections of the prosecution.

“If we’d had good jury selection, I think we would have won the case,” the FBI agent targeted for assassination, Jack Knox, said in an interview years later. “The judge … was dredging right at the bottom of the barrel.”

Another former FBI agent with extensive experience of the radical far right, Danny Coulson, did not exclude the possibility of similar sympathies being at play in the Oregon case – on the side of law enforcement as much as the jury. Portland may be a liberal city, he said, but gun culture is deeply entrenched in Oregon and many people may have had some bedrock sympathy for the protesters’ complaints.

“It’s the tenor of the times,” Coulson said in an interview. “A lot of people in our country are sick of government trying to control every aspect of human life.

“I’m not saying I agree with that position, but there are a lot of people who make that case… The bureau [FBI] is brought into this stuff all the time, and they don’t want to do it. They don’t want to be brought into it, and they probably have some sympathy for the cause.”

Pitcavage did not agree that sympathy for far-right defendants was a given, in this or any other case.

“Almost every prosecution of right-wing extremism is successful,” he said. “Our prisons are full of right-wing extremists. It’s no more difficult to prosecute right-wing extremists than any other class of people. With any particular trial, though, there can be things that affect it.”


e-max.it: your social media marketing partner
 

Comments   

A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

 
+13 # John Puma 2016-10-30 05:20
The "influence of White Nationalist agitators"?

Make that the "privilege" of WHITE nationalist agitators.
 
 
+11 # uuzul 2016-10-30 10:58
"It didn’t help that the judge dispensed with standard jury selection and hand-picked an all-white panel over the objections of the prosecution."

I'd say there were grounds for an appeal based on an incompetent and prejudiced judge. The jury was suspect from the beginning and when the one guy was knocked off the jury because another juror sent a note to the judge accusing him of being 'with' the BLM (the guy had worked a few years - many years ago, for the BLM but was now a corrections officer) -- the verdict was assured. TAINTED JURY - COMPROMISED VERDICT.
 
 
-1 # jerrypenguin 2016-10-30 12:28
"How the Oregon Militia Acquittals Reflect the Influence of White Nationalist Agitators"

As a long time resident of the Pacific Northwest, I divide my time between a major metropolitan area and a remote place located high up on the wet side of the Cascades. That said, I had an immediate negative reaction to the title of this article. However, Andrew Gumbel's biography captured my attention. I immediately requested two of his books from my local library.

I do not find the people of the PNW remote regions to simply be "White Nationalist agitators". Many are highly sophisticated, well read, travelled, and have a strong sense of decency and justice. To blanket them with the above label is absurd.
 
 
0 # John Puma 2016-10-31 05:26
To j penguin:

I believe the term "White Nationalist Agitators" was applied to those acquitted in the case, NOT the "people of the PNW," in general nor the residents of the area in which the acquitted did not conspire to occupy a federal building, in particular.
 
 
-3 # MendoChuck 2016-10-30 13:15
To make a conviction in your remarks without the knowledge that comes from being on the jury just doesn't make any sense.
Being "Anti Militia" is one thing but to convict someone is quite another story.
I have served on to many juryies to make those kind of accusations.
 
 
+1 # pegasus4508 2016-10-30 17:26
Thanks. It is called White Privilege.
 
 
0 # Tigre1 2016-10-30 18:34
MendoChuck: odd that someone who served on so many juries cannot spell JURIES. Don't go to THAT word right away. It's complex. You might start with T-O-O.

I hung out in Mendocino often a lot...most of the folks there had enough California
grade school to have their teeth and be able to spell.
 
 
+1 # pegasus4508 2016-10-30 17:25
Unarmed black men (and children) killed every day. Armed White nationalists not even found guilty, let alone gunned down. I wonder why?
 
 
+1 # Tigre1 2016-10-30 18:30
The jerks ARE taking over the government.
This is extremely serious undermining of government.
This has been cooking since Koch got all that money from Joe Stalin to do JUST THIS.

Yeah, so I'm nuts. Have you googled STALIN + KOCH...? Wake up, dummies. The 'conservative revolution' started with some very good, deep, well-financed plans.
Anybody who read this ever take any classes on 'International Relations' or maybe serve State? Ignorant beyond belief. And YOUR votes do WHAT?
 
 
+1 # Buddha 2016-10-31 10:10
That's America for you...ISIS is Evil, VanillaISIS is Good.
 

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.

RSNRSN