Meet die-hards standing with wildlife-refuge armed occupiers

By WND Staff


By April Kiessling

Editor’s note: After almost six weeks of testimony, the ongoing trial of multiple defendants stemming from last January’s 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Ore., has gone to the jury. While most media coverage has reflected the government’s viewpoint in the high-profile dispute, WND went to the trial in Multnomah County and interviewed a number of supporters of the defendants and their cause, in an effort to get their side out as well.

Supporters of Bundys and other defendants in Malheur Refuge case at work in Portland, Oregon. October, 5, 2016
Supporters of Bundys and other defendants in Malheur Refuge case at work in Portland, Oregon. October, 5, 2016

A marathon trial for occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge has been taking place in Portland, Oregon, since mid-September, with seven of the 26 defendants currently being tried, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy. But almost as much activity has been taking place on sidewalks outside the courthouse, as supporters parade, protest and cheer defendants as they enter and leave hearings.

Malheur Refuge defendants were arrested early this year for their armed occupation of the refuge in Harney County, Oregon, which is a federal property. Some were leaders or spokesmen, such as Ammon Bundy – and LeVoy Finnicum, who was killed by unidentified law enforcement agents. Other defendants claimed to be only visiting, or to be independent journalists, or were trapped there by the presence of federal and local police.

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This legal contest between the U.S. government and defendants is complex and multilayered, covering almost every aspect of the First and Second Amendments. Defendants accuse the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies of mistreatment, abuse of states’ rights and property laws, as well as personal vendettas against ranchers. Anger over perceived mistreatment of local ranchers Dwight Hammond, 74, and son Steven, 47, triggered the spontaneous decision to occupy the refuge after a meeting in nearby Burns, Oregon. The 41-day occupation drew global media, while leaders attempted to negotiate with the FBI and local officials tried to resolve their land disputes with the BLM.

Considering the scope and significance of these trials, they started off with little press or agitation. Both have picked up steam though, and accelerated quickly over the last few weeks. Vocal and energetic supporters for the defense such as John Lamb, David “Zion” Brunner and Deborah Venetucci, may account for some of the interest. Advocates have diverse backgrounds, although there are several ranchers, cowboys and even Indians. Land protesters are working together. Some members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s North Dakota pipeline protests have visited the courthouse.

Supporters here are uncommonly loyal, considering the majority had never met any defendants before the trials. They’ve braved rain, cold, exhaustion, harassment and occasional run-ins with Department of Homeland Security agents, whose vehicles encircle the court. Most advocates of the occupiers are not wealthy and bear travel and living costs themselves, leaving family and businesses for extended periods of time. Somewhere, a private “Liberty Camp” offers a makeshift shelter, for those whose funds have been depleted. A horse named “Lady Liberty” parades with them and Portland police officers have become rather fond of her. They seem on friendly terms with the supporters as well, occasionally warning them when trouble is brewing.

Lady Liberty
Lady Liberty

WND joined the occupation supporters in their vigils for several days and attended court sessions. Videos below represent only a fraction of the people who have stood in solidarity with the defendants.

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John Lamb of Wyoming at U.S. District Court Portland, Oregon, on October 19, 2016, supporting Malheur protesters

Visitors approaching Portland’s District Court over the last month can’t fail to miss the presence of John Lamb. He positions himself across the street on “Freedom Corner” and has become an ad hoc leader to the groups who meet there, as well as a spokesman to Portlanders passing through. Lamb is an amiable father of 11 from Wyoming who is utterly committed to his cause, having left kith, kin and business and manned his post since Sept. 9. With a peaceable demeanor, he describes his faith as “much like the Amish.”

At times Lamb dons green-drab prison garb in solidarity with the defendants, who are lodged in a jail next to the courthouse for their trial. Ammon Bundy famously refuses to change garb for court, claiming he is “a political prisoner.” Lamb (or others) lead groups with a bullhorn, signs and flags. “What do we want?” “Freedom!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” His daily Facebook posts are gaining viewers from as far as Norway. A German news team showed up early in the trial and interviewed them as well.

Lamb and all present call up to the sixth floor of the jail at specific times. “Wake up prisoners! We are waiting for you … flash your lights!” From an open holding area, prisoners can see the streets below. They wait until they see a prisoner’s silhouette waving back from the window. Protesters try to have someone on post both morning and evening at their stake on “Freedom Corner.”

Lamb posted the following on Oct. 10: “In the last few months I met people from all walks of life unite. … They have come from every part of this great country and even have watched from afar in other countries as we stand up for our bother in need. We have all United for one cause against injustice and that is to leave our children and their children freedom from oppression of tyranny government. LOVE CAN NOT BE OVERCOME.”

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David “Zion” Brugger, at his post day and night in the environs of Portland District Court

Evangelist and supporter David “Zion” Brugger has become a courthouse fixture during the long weeks of this trial. Because he refuses to use “state ID,” he may not enter the courthouse and remains outside. When the next seven defendants are processed through, he may help them as well, unless charges are dismissed. Combining street preaching with sharp political commentary, Brugger rails against injustice, sometimes using a megaphone.

“Repent and turn back,” he shouts toward the streets, while he refers to gun control laws as just another form of “reefer madness.” Brugger was ordered by Homeland Security officials and federal marshals not to pass out copies of the U.S. Constitution on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. He continued, but was not arrested – this time. Attempting to pass information to crowds entering the courthouse on jury nullification (a right of jurors specifically acknowledged in the Oregon Constitution), Brugger was cited twice and must appear in court now himself. This echoes the constant attempts of defendant Ammon Bundy to introduce the Constitution in his defense and the many rejections from the court.

Shari Dovale, editor of, covered occupation and trials extensively
Shari Dovale, editor of, covered occupation and trials extensively

Shari Dovale is one of several independent journalists covering the case, and the founder of Redoubt News. Dovale visited the Malheur Refuge and did live streaming early on. It proved a dangerous task, as Pete Santelli, another embedded journalist, was arrested and charged along with the occupiers. Dovale’s interest is so great that she temporarily relocated from Idaho to Portland, saying “my husband was retired, but went back to work to support me in this.” Her coverage is in-depth, including details from her time at the Refuge. On the last day of closing arguments, Dovale was asked for her ID an extra time, after having already shown it and having been searched twice (normal procedure here). Refusing to comply with what she considered discriminatory actions of the DHS and federal marshals, Dovale was informed she is now banned from returning.

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Vicky Davis of TVOI News based in Idaho.

Vicky Davis another independent journalist from Idaho who has worked with Dovale and writes for TVOI News. Many women like Davis drive alone across Western states or wander dark Portland streets doing interviews at night. Davis arrived at the Malheur Refuge early in the occupation and has continued to cover events in Portland.

Lazaro from Florida- created expose of Oregon & U.S. officials’ alleged corruption, including Hillary Clinton
Lazaro from Florida created an expose of Oregon & U.S. officials’ alleged corruption, including Hillary Clinton

Lazaro Ecenarro came from Florida out of concern over the death of LeVoy Finicum and the mistreatment of Oregon’s ranchers and farmers. Over a period of months, Lazaro has compiled an enormous dossier on the multifaceted links between Oregon officials (especially Sen. Ron Wyden), alleging they personally benefit from mineral rights in Malheur County. As he presented this 15,000-page document, related WikiLeaks documents were being released that backed up at least some of his findings. Specifically, that Hillary Clinton negotiated sales of Malheur County uranium to the Russians and made a fortune off of it. Some of this comes from areas surrounding the embattled ranchers in court now.

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Deborah Sue Venetucci, supporters of the Bundy family in their Nevada and Oregon protests

Deborah Sue Venetucci has been a vocal and diehard supporter for the Bundys and other families involved in the Malheur Refuge dispute. She posts her interactions with supporters, networking and scouring social media to provide helpful information or alert regarding possible informants. Venetucci lists every defendant and witness involved and has dedicated the last several months of her life to court hearings, jail visitations and speaking to anyone who will listen.

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Lindsay Tyler-defense witness and supporter of the Bundy family

One of many who had travelled to see the occupation in person, Lindsay Tyler, was also a witness for the defense: “I’m a huge supporter of what Ammon has to say because he brings to light some of the land issues the ranchers are facing.” Lindsay spent time at the Refuge and proudly wears a shirt proclaiming: “Unindicted co-conspirator – United States of America vs. BUNDY et al.”

Former public prosecutor and attorney Roger Weidner is a familiar face at events protesting civil rights violations in the area. He is intensely concerned over the public’s lack of knowledge of their constitutional rights, especially in the courts. Weidner proudly recalls his battle scars, including numerous arrests and several assaults at the hands of police or court security. He credits his fighting spirit to his “two-fisted, alpha, 89-pound Norwegian grandmother,” describing how she duked it out with mayors decades ago.

Closing days of chapter one, Malheur Refuge occupation trials

The initial group of Malheur defendants heard closing arguments, and both prosecution and defense rested on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Thursday, the jury received the judge’s instructions and began deliberations until a verdict is reached. Alternate jurors were as mesmerized by this case as many public observers, pleading with the court to allow them to hear the jury’s deliberations, although their request is unlikely to be granted as it is not commonly permitted.

“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!

While exhausted, most of the serious activists and supporters surrounding this case told WND they intend to return for future rounds of hearings, unless all charges are dropped against all 26 defendants.

All images by April Kiessling, a long-time contributing writer for WND.

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