Journalists reporting critically on Feds’ handling of Oregon standoff charged with crimes

by WorldTribune Staff, March 12, 2017

Several journalists, bloggers and video teams who were critical of the Obama administration’s handling of the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff in Nevada and the 2016 confrontation at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon are facing criminal charges.

Representatives of major media organizations, such as CNN and CBS, that covered the confrontation were not charged.

Media and satellite trucks are seen at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon on Jan. 4, 2016. /Reuters

Many of the charges “appear to hinge on the motivation, speech and political beliefs of the ‘journalist’ defendants,” WorldNetDaily reported on March 11. “Dozens who gathered at either place were informed they were considered ‘unindicted co-conspirators.’ ”

On April 5, 2014, Bureau of Land Management rangers removed and shot the Bundy family’s cattle, reportedly as a way of recouping fees the federal government claimed rancher Cliven Bundy owed. Protesters, some armed, stood in open confrontation with federal and local law enforcement for a week, until the BLM backed down and left.

Two years later, “treatment of the Hammond ranching family in Burns, Oregon, triggered the occupation of the nearby Malheur Wildlife Refuge starting Jan. 2, 2016, and lasting 41 days,” the report said.

LeVoy Finicum was shot to death on Feb. 26, 2016 by unidentified law enforcement, and several other occupiers were arrested. At that time, the government also decided to issue arrest warrants for participants in the 2014 Nevada confrontation.

The initial trial for seven of the Oregon protestors ended with a “not guilty” verdict for all defendants – including ringleaders Ryan and Ammon Bundy. At the time, the Obama administration admitted that federal officials were “rattled by the Oregon verdict.”

Federal prosecutors have since added new charges for some defendants, which will not be eligible for jury trials.

“Comparing media members who face charges with those who are not, the major difference appears to hinge on expressions of support for the ‘occupation’s’ organizers or their causes.” the report said.

Witnesses at both sites described a large media presence, including major networks.

“CBS, CNN and others were either present or remotely covered the confrontations. RT showed up in courthouses, as did press from Britain and Norway. Freelance journalists and documentary film crews spent nights at the Oregon refuge. None of these was arrested, regardless of length of time spent or the number of trips,” the report said.

In the latter part of the Oregon standoff, “only embedded journalists were left reporting at the refuge,” the report said.

Among these were Pete Santilli, Tom Lacovara, Michael Emry and Blaine Cooper.

Santilli was accused of helping plot the Oregon occupation and was indicted on conspiracy and other charges. Although he also covered the Bundy standoff in 2014, he was not arrested until January 2016, toward the end of the Oregon standoff.

Oregon Public Broadcasting acknowledged “the case against Santilli [is] so far largely based on words,” offering a snippet of his anti-government rhetoric from a broadcast at the refuge: “I dare you, you government fricking Nazi pukes, I dare you to continue to spread lies, fear and intimidation and threats!”

Before his death, LeVoy Finicum said Santilli was there as press, not as a protester. Witnesses claim Santilli “provided most of the media coverage” with snippets of his broadcast being used by global media. A Burns resident claimed many people depended on Santilli and other embedded journalists because of news blackouts, the WND report said.

The state asserts that Santilli’s broadcasting was inflammatory, although the only casualty during the entire six-week occupation was Finicum, shot at a police roadblock. Although all charges were dropped against Santilli in Oregon, he now awaits trial in Nevada, facing up to 94 years in prison, as do other defendants charged under the 1996 Anti-terrorism Act, the WND report said.

Cooper, who was involved in both incidents, claims he “was threatened into a plea agreement and given poor advice by his court-appointed attorney,” the WND reports said, adding Cooper has a prior rap sheet, but in February 2016 his charges appeared to be related to online support of patriotic groups in the western U.S.

Founder of the alternative news site “Third Watch Productions,” Cooper made live-feed videos from the Oregon refuge, describing the situation and, the state charges, encouraging people to join the occupiers’ efforts. Cooper remained after LeVoy Finicum was killed, insisting the rancher was unarmed when shot. “I wanted to be a voice on social media, but I never thought this would get me incarcerated,” he said. Cooper has since turned state’s witness and has testified for the prosecution in Portland.

Lacovara hosts the Internet show “Resurrect the Republic Broadcasting” and produced “Dirty Uncle Sam” radio, with various contributors. Although he claimed to be in Oregon in a media capacity only, Lacovara was arrested in December 2016, almost a year after the occupation ended. He was charged as a “felon in possession of a gun,” although he was unarmed when detained, the WND report said.

Shortly before his arrest, he made scathing videos charging the government with collusion to deny Cooper competent counsel as well as of outright lying. After his arraignment, Lacovara was sent to Oregon, where he awaits his own trial.

According to the report, “only alternative or patriot media voices such as Emry and Santilli were arrested for their actions” in Oregon and Nevada. Fox News reporter Dennis Michael Lynch covered most of the Nevada protest live and was “never arraigned as an occupier,” the report said. “Likewise, Joe Biggs experienced no repercussions over his presence at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada while working for the Alex Jones Show.”

Gary Hunt, who documented the Oregon standoff, has been ordered to stop writing about court proceedings related to the incident. Hunt has refused to honor Judge Anna J. Brown’s request and hasn’t appeared before her Portland courtroom to reveal his sources. Brown reportedly subpoenaed Hunt in connection with exposing identities of covert agents.

Hunt had an “interesting confrontation” with an FBI agent on a short visit to Burns in 2016.

“I asked him if he recognized me as press … and he responded that he thought I worked in a gray area,” Hunt said. “I asked him if the FBI wasn’t also working in a gray area.”