“I’m very discouraged by yesterday’s decision,” the Springfield Democrat said in a strongly worded statement.
“It’s clear that the Malheur occupiers illegally seized and destroyed federal land, not as a peaceful protest, but as a willful and premeditated act of domestic terrorism.”
DeFazio also reiterated his earlier charges that the occupiers were emboldened by the lack of immediate federal action against Cliven Bundy. He’s the father of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, two leaders of the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The elder Bundy and dozens of armed supporters in 2014 stopped federal agents from seizing his cattle for non-payment of grazing fees.
“The Obama administration’s inaction years ago precipitated the standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge,” DeFazio said. “Its failure to promptly prosecute Cliven Bundy for trespassing on federal lands, incurring debt to the federal government for unpaid grazing fees, and engaging in an armed standoff with federal agents emboldened this ultra-right-wing extremism.”
DeFazio could not be reached for comment on his statement. DeFazio spokeswoman Beth Schoenbach said the congressman was traveling in his Southern Oregon district.
Among the seven members of the Oregon congressional delegation, DeFazio was the most critical of the decision. Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley also both expressed disappointment at the outcome.
“The notion that an armed occupation could take over a citizen-owned facility and cause extensive damage,” Merkley said in a statement, “and yet face no consequences within our legal system, is deeply concerning.”
Wyden said at a Portland event that Oregonians should “answer the question of how government can serve all the people when a small group of extremists can mount an armed takeover on a federal facility.”
Rep. Greg Walden, the sole Republican in the delegation, avoided saying anything other than to note what happened in federal court in Portland on Thursday.
“The defendants were tried in federal court in Multnomah County by a jury of their peers from around the state, and found not guilty on the overwhelming majority of charges,” said Walden.
Jurors were unable to reach a decision on one charge of theft of government property against Ryan Bundy. They otherwise found the seven defendants not guilty on all charges.
Walden’s district includes the Malheur refuge, which is in Harney County. He opposed the occupation and urged the protestors to leave. But he said in a House floor speech a few days after the occupation began that “I understand and hear their anger.” He went on to criticize federal land policies that he said unnecessarily clamp down on local uses. Ammon Bundy later said in court that he was encouraged by Walden’s speech.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said in a statement that she was disappointed by the verdict and added, “The armed takeover of a federal facility should not be condoned, but I respect the judicial process. We must all strive to create a more civil society in which we resolve our disagreements through discussion, not by threatening violence or brandishing weapons.”
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., had no comment on the verdict, according to spokeswoman Carlee Griffeth. Rep. Earl Blumenauer could not be reached Friday.
Cliven Bundy was arrested at the Portland airport in February and charged with several offenses stemming from the 2014 standoff with federal agents in Nevada. His trial, which includes 18 other defendants, is set to begin in Las Vegas in February.
“Hopefully the federal officials leading the long-delayed prosecution of Cliven Bundy and his associates will present a more robust and irrefutable case than the failed Malheur case,” DeFazio said in his statement. “In the future the federal government needs to act more swiftly to respond to cases of domestic terrorism and enforce the law to protect communities.”