Sixteen people face federal charges for their alleged role in the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon that sparked a month-long standoff, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday.
The defendants include the alleged leader of the occupation, Ammon Bundy, as well as well-known right-wing activists Jon Ritzheimer, Ryan Bundy, and Shawna Cox. They were all charged with one count of conspiring to impede officers of the United States, and If convicted, could spend up to six years in prison.
Bundy and his alleged co-conspirators took control of the federal facility at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near the rural town of Burns as an act of protest for what they said was an unfair prison sentence given to a local rancher accused of burning federal land.
The armed occupiers' list of grievances eventually grew to include broad complaints about federal land ownership and the role of government, drawing anger from local communities.
The standoff came to a head on Jan. 25, when the Oregon State Police shot and killed one of the most visible spokespeople for the occupiers, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum. Five other occupiers, including Bundy, were arrested that day. The rest of those indicted were later taken into custody.
Shortly after his arrest, Ammon Bundy called on the remaining holdouts at the refuge to go home, stating he and other leaders would take their cause on in the courts. However, four holdouts have remained at the refuge.
On Thursday, Bundy issued an audio statement from federal prison, saying the taking of the refuge was "not only right, it was the duty of the people to do."
"We exhausted all prudent measures to get government officials to investigate the abuses to the Hammond family," he said in the statement.
"The results of government officials ignoring the people are acts like the takeover of the Malheur refuge," he continued.
According to the indictment, Bundy and his supporters are accused of planning the armed takeover for months, including warning county officials of "extreme civil unrest" if their demands were not met.
In his address, Bundy called the takeover as "educational efforts."
"Go home Oregon police, you have already killed enough," Bundy said. "Go home, FBI. It is time to end this."
The Bundy family, which has its history of armed confrontations with the federal government in their Nevada ranch as well, also issued a statement to supporters. Ammon Bundy and his supporters, according to the statement, had gathered statements from more than 50 local ranchers in the area, many of which "exposed abusive actions by federal government officials."
The family has also been encouraging supporters online to head to Harney County to protest the arrest of Bundy and his supporters.
Sixteen people were named in Thursday's indictment, charged with a single county of conspiracy to impede or injure an officer.
The U.S. Code defines the charge, as follows:
If two or more persons in any State, Territory, Possession, or District conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from accepting or holding any office, trust, or place of confidence under the United States, or from discharging any duties thereof, or to induce by like means any officer of the United States to leave the place, where his duties as an officer are required to be performed, or to injure him in his person or property on account of his lawful discharge of the duties of his office, or while engaged in the lawful discharge thereof, or to injure his property so as to molest, interrupt, hinder, or impede him in the discharge of his official duties, each of such persons shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six years, or both.