Militia and antigovernment extremists illegally occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon are now pledging to form a “citizen’s grand jury” to indict and bring criminal charges against public officials and judges the occupiers accuse of committing crimes and violating the Constitution.
With such “indictments,” the extremists’ doctrine would justify their attempts to make arrests, get judgments or file liens against the targeted public officials.
Bruce Doucette, a self-proclaimed “U.S. Superior Court judge” from Denver, arrived at the occupied Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns on Tuesday to “review evidence that public officials may have committed crimes,” the Oregonian reports.
Doucette, a 54-year-old computer repairman, told the newspaper that 25 local residents “would hear testimony and make decisions in private” before deciding whether to bring criminal charges. Those findings “would be put in writing and made public,” the newspaper reports. He didn’t say what would come next.
Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy and the leader of the Oregon take-over, as well as his key followers have said they believe federal prosecutors, judges and officials in the Bureau of Land Management broke laws and violated the Constitution in bringing charges against Dwight and Steven Hammond.
The Hammonds’ 20-year battle with federal agencies, culminating with their jury conviction for arson for illegally burning federal land, and their mandatory-minimum prison term of five years ignited the current takeover. Wanting no part of the Bundy’s plan, which was weeks in the planning, the Hammonds reported to federal prison in California on Jan. 4, the third day of the occupation.
Now apparently bored with using federal computers and cutting down BLM fencing at the wildlife refuge, the occupiers – with supplies and new recruits routinely being shipped in –– seem intent on setting up their own court system and convening their “citizen’s grand jury.”
There is no historical precedent allowing a self-styled judge or a citizen’s grand jury would have any import on the outcome of the Malheur occupiers demands to open public lands, other to than to excite those embracing a fringe view.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward has publicly voiced concerns about threats made against him and his deputies and their families, as well as employees of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The sheriff has urged Bundy and his followers to leave and even offered to escort them out of the county. The antigovernment activists refused the offer. They say they will discuss their “exit strategy” Friday evening at a community meeting in Burns.
The concept of the “citizen’s grand jury” has roots in the Posse Comitatus movement – a sometimes violent, anti-Semitic, anti-tax, antigovernment brand of extremism. Ironically, the Posse Comitatus movement is generally believed to have started in Oregon.
Henry L. “Mike” Beach, a Portland business man with previous ties to the anti-Semitic, fascist “Silver Shirt” movement, started the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Research Committee in 1969. The sheriff’s Posse Comitatus movement spun out from that.
Beach, who died in 1989, embraced many of the philosophies of William Potter Gale, another Oregon man, whose anti-Semitic views were the springboard for Aryan Nations founder and neo-Nazi leader Richard Butler.
“Beach declared that a county’s citizens, as defined by its laws, could deny state and federal authority to tax, regulate, and govern,” the Oregon Historical Society says in documenting the history of Posse Comitatus in the state.
“Voters elected the sheriff as the principal enforcement official, with the authority to deputize male citizens,” the historical society says. County citizens “reserved the right to establish a grand jury outside the prevailing court system to indict, judge, and punish public officials and private citizen.”
Posse Comitatus cells formed throughout the United States from the 1970’s through the ‘90s. Followers, who sometimes formed their own government entities called “townships,” appointed their owned public officials and believed only the county sheriff – not federal or state law enforcement – could enforce laws.
One such group –– the infamous “Montana Freemen” –– formed their “Justus Township” on a 960-acre ranch near remote Jordan, Montana, in 1996. Some of the 16 extremists were wanted for threatening public officials, writing bad checks or tax evasion.
Unlike the Oregon standoff where there is little or no law enforcement presence, the FBI rotated its regional SWAT teams into Jordan, Mont., controlling the perimeter and not allowing anyone in or out. Without a shot fired, the Freeman siege ended after 81 days – the longest FBI standoff in U.S. history. Those involved were all subsequently convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
The Posse Comitatus concept embraced by the Montana Freemen is the same anti-federalism being voiced by Bundy and his band.
Federal authorities, including the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Attorney General, have been silent on their plans for those involved in the Oregon takeover, but the parallel to the Montana Freeman standoff, including the “citizen’s grand jury” development, has to be catching their attention.
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