Federal prosecutors described Wesley Kjar as one of the least culpable defendants for his role in the 41-day, armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
And during his sentencing Wednesday in federal court in downtown Portland, he was among the most apologetic.
“I accept responsibility for what I did,” Kjar said in court before U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown sentenced him to 250 hours of community service and two years probation. Kjar has agreed to pay $3,000 in restitution.
Hometown: Manti, Utah
In June 2016, Kjar pleaded guilty to conspiracy to impede federal employees who worked at the refuge, a felony. In exchange for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors dropped a felony weapons charge.
Kjar said he was especially sorry to former refuge biologist Linda Beck, who was based at the refuge headquarters and researched ways to reduce invasive carp in Malheur Lake.
“I knew the work that Ms. Beck was doing was important with respect to invasive species,” Kjar said. “I tried to bring some balance to the entire situation.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said Kjar played a role in the early days of the occupation, but only remained on the refuge for about six days.
Kjar was part of “early intimidation of federal employees at the refuge,” Gabriel said. “He very quickly became a confidant of the senior leadership.”
Kjar also became a bodyguard for occupation leader Ammon Bundy, Gabriel said.
Kjar briefly described the early days at the refuge as “calm” and said he quickly got caught up in the idea of helping fellow ranchers.
Kjar, a resident of Utah, said he grew up on a farm about 150 miles south of Salt Lake City. He said while in Harney County he heard stories of struggling ranchers.
“It awoke in me a deep passion for the ranching community I grew up in,” Kjar said.
Kjar said he also tried to get the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to intervene. Kjar and other occupiers are members.
After he left the refuge, Kjar said he attended a meeting in Cedar City, Utah. Occupation leader Ryan Bundy and spokesman LaVoy Finicum attended it, Kjar said.
At the meeting, Kjar said he tried to reach Finicum using a story out of the Book of Mormon. The story was about about two people who were armed, preparing to fight. But when one laid down their weapons, they had peace.
“I tried to use that story to reach LaVoy,” Kjar said.
“Please get rid of the guns,” Kjar recalled telling Finicum in court.
Kjar said he told Finicum to get rid of the guns at the refuge.
“He said, ‘I’ll try,’” Kjar recalled in court.
Two days later, according to Kjar, Finicum was shot and killed by police after he fled a traffic stop.
Brown responded by thanking Kjar.
“I feel firmly that you’re not going to put the community at risk by making these choices again,” Brown said.