Occupation leader Ammon Bundy confirmed in federal court Tuesday he had a plan to takeover the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge before Jan. 2, 2016, when the occupation began.
The testimony delivered at the U.S. District Courthouse in Portland contradicted what Bundy said during his own trial in October.
Bundy gave testimony Tuesday as the first witness for the defense in the trial of four occupiers involved in last year’s 41-day occupation. Defendants Darryl Thorn, Jake Ryan, Duane Ehmer and Jason Patrick were charged with Bundy in the same superseding indictment.
On the stand, Bundy confirmed there was a meeting on Dec. 29, 2015, at a home in Burns, Oregon, where he articulated his plan to seize the refuge. But he said neither the meeting, nor his plan, were secret.
“We needed to take a hard stand, if you will,” Bundy testified. “So, I felt we could go into the refuge and occupy the refuge."
Bundy said he spoke openly about his idea to take over the refuge before the occupation began, not only in the Dec. 29 meeting, but also with members of the Harney County Committee of Safety — a group of residents set up by Bundy in the weeks before the occupation.
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News of a meeting to discuss the occupation of the refuge first came to light Monday, when occupier Blaine Cooper testified about it as part of the government’s case. Cooper said the meeting was so secretive Bundy had people turn off their cellphones and leave their laptops outside the meeting room.
On Tuesday, Bundy said he wanted people to turn their phones off because he didn’t want to be interrupted as he spoke about his research into the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond, two Harney County ranchers convicted of arson. The occupiers claimed they had come to Oregon to oppose the Hammonds' incarceration.
“I then proposed going into the refuge,” Bundy said.
Both Cooper and Bundy testified that after the Dec. 29 meeting there was no definite plan to take over the refuge on a specific date or time.
“It wasn’t decided,” Bundy said. “I left it open.”
Both men also said there were people at the meeting who didn’t agree with Bundy's idea.
The testimony seemed to contradict Bundy's own description of events in his October trial, during which he said there was no plan to occupy the refuge. A jury eventually acquitted Bundy and six others of conspiring to prevent federal employees from going to the refuge.
Bundy acknowledged during cross examination Tuesday that his actions kept employees from going to work at the refuge. But he also pushed back during Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight’s cross-examination.
“This is not about the refuge employees at all,” Bundy said, adding that his protest of the federal government was “bigger” than the refuge employees.
“It’s much bigger than them, but they still couldn’t go to work,” Knight said.
“That’s correct,” Bundy said.
Bundy said, as he has in the past, that federal employees who wanted to go to work at the refuge could have if they wanted.