In a way, Oregon finally gets to turn the page on the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, little more than a year after a 41-day standoff came to a close.
Feds re-seized the public property in February 2016, an event that gained international attention. To some who watched, it was a clear example of government overreach. To others, it was no doubt domestic terrorism.
To a Portland jury, it was somewhere in between.
That jury last week returned guilty verdicts on two defendants and not guilty verdicts to two others who had been charged with conspiracy. Remember that back in October, Ammon Bundy and six others were acquitted on the same conspiracy and weapons charges after a five week trial — results that shocked legal experts but confirmed the feelings of many Bundy supporters.
Whether legal or illegal, it was clear Ammon and his brother Ryan were ringleaders in the occupation.
It’s disappointing that some minor players were found or pleaded guilty for their crimes, while those in control and who devised the plan remain unconvicted. That may not last long, however, as Ammon, Ryan and their father, Cliven, face even more serious charges in a Nevada court of law.
Perhaps it is truly the occupation that will never end.
Yet, for Eastern Oregonians, we should consider the book of justice closed for all intents and purposes. We should take a new book off the shelf and start a new chapter, one where ranchers and residents can speak without fear about the land they love and listen to others. The rabble-rousing outsiders didn’t start that conversation, and they sure aren’t going to have the last word.
We have an opportunity to rebuild from the community up. We should reject outside agitators and instead focus on the local economy and the local environment. When thinking about public lands, we should not be hyperbolic about problems, pessimistic about solutions, nostalgic about the past or nihilistic about the future.
Let’s put the occupation behind us and step forward as a region.