An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

Manager of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Testifies At Trial

By Conrad Wilson (OPB) and Bryan M. Vance (OPB)
Portland, Oregon Sept. 15, 2016 6:22 p.m.

Chad Karges, manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took the stand Thursday as a witness for the government.

The testimony lasted between 4 and 5 hours, with Karges providing a sense of what the refuge looked like before the occupiers arrived and how it looked after the occupation ended.


Karges said he locked the main office, a room the occupiers used throughout the occupation.

He also confirmed through photographs that the men holding guns on the refuge were not government employees, leading to the larger point prosecutors are trying to prove: that the occupiers impeded federal employees while occupying the refuge.

There were dozens of photos that Karges confirmed as people who were not government employees holding large weapons. The defense tried to argue that hunting rifles are permitted on the refuge.

However, Karges said shotguns are permitted in certain parts of the refuge if they have three rounds or less. He said it was clear many of the weapons in the photographs were able to have more than three rounds.

Karges said occupiers also used government equipment, like vehicles. He said he did not authorize the non-government employees to use the equipment.

At one point during a redirect, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel asked Karges why he didn't ask the occupiers to leave. Karges said that "it was not a safe environment to do that."

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Gabriel also asked if employees stated why they did not want to go to work. Karges said the employees were "fearful of what might happen."

One notable aspect earlier Thursday, was that occupation leader Ammon Bundy entered the courtroom wearing his jail scrubs.

U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown, who is overseeing the trial, asked Bundy twice why he chose to wear that garb, and twice he declined to answer. Instead, his attorney Morgan Philpot read a prepared statement aloud to the court.


Philpot said that “Mr. Bundy decides to appear as he is—a political prisoner.” Reading from the statement, he said Bundy has been "shuffled around in chains” and “molested like an animal.” The statement went on to say Bundy would “prefer to drop the facade and appear as the political prisoner he is.”

Bundy has been wearing a brown suit with a white shirt for the last several days of the trial.

The jury was not present for the statement, but Brown addressed the issue after they entered the courtroom.

"You may notice that Mr. Bundy is dressed differently today," Brown said to the jury. “You are not to draw any inferences of any kind from his attire today, or any day.”

Thursday morning also brought the emotional cross-examination of Harney County resident Walter "Butch" Eaton, whose testimony began Wednesday afternoon. It was clear during the line of questioning Thursday that Eaton, despite the fact that the prosecution called him as a witness, is sympathetic to the defendants.

Related: Listen: OPB's 'This Land Is Our Land' Podcast

Eaton was with the initial group that took over the refuge—it included Ryan Bundy, Mel Bundy (Mel Bundy has not been charged in this case) and Ryan Payne.

Ammon Bundy's co-council, during the cross examination, asked Eaton to describe how rifles were used in that initial takeover.

Eaton said the group wasn't shouldering the rifles, or holding them in a way that would connote they were ready to be fired. He testified that they weren’t looking down the scope of the guns. He said the group wasn’t moving in an aggressive way.

When asked why he left the refuge shortly after arriving with this initial group, Eaton responded, “I love these guys.”

“They’ve been really good friends of mine,” he said choking back tears. “I felt like they were putting themselves in a situation where they were going to lose.” He also talked about the fact that he has COPD, a lung condition, and how if he had gone to jail he was worried he could have died because of his poor health.

“I am a sick man,” he said.

Eaton also testified that the armed protestors were God-fearing men. “They did things in this county that I should have been doing," Eaton said when asked to explain that remark.

The prosecution, in its redirect of the cross-examination of Eaton, acknowledged that he agreed with the occupiers’ ideology. They also acknowledged that when he left, LaVoy Finicum’s truck was blocking the entrance to the refuge.