EDITORIAL: A surprise verdict

The fact that U.S. marshals used a stun gun on a defense attorney following the verdicts in the Ammon Bundy case speaks volumes about the bureaucratic arrogance that has exacerbated Western public land disputes.

A jury in Portland on Thursday acquitted Mr. Bundy and six others on charges stemming from their month-long occupation of a building on a federal bird sanctuary in southeast Oregon earlier this year. The armed men were protesting prison sentences handed out to two ranchers for setting fires on federal lands intended to prevent the spread of invasive plants onto their own property.

The not-guilty verdicts surprised even the defense attorneys. “It’s stunning. It’s a stunning victory for the defense,” one told The Associated Press. “I’m speechless.”

The verdict resonated 975 miles south in Las Vegas, where Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven, awaits a similar federal trial. He faces a slew of charges filed in the aftermath of the high-profile 2014 standoff at his Bunkerville ranch over a long-running conflict with the BLM involving land use and cattle grazing.

Some speculated that the Oregon acquittals might make the Cliven Bundy prosecution more problematic, but Daniel Bogden, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, downplayed such talk. “The Oregon case and charges are separate and unrelated to the Nevada case and charges,” he said.

He is, of course, correct. But it’s hard to believe that news of the Portland verdict didn’t trigger a sense of concern in Mr. Bogden’s office.

Many residents of the rural West have long resented the federal agencies charged with managing the nation’s public lands as haughty and impervious to local concerns. Too often, bureaucrats inside the far-off Beltway have only fanned the flames by issuing restrictive edicts with little regard for how they will affect those who live on the land.

Regardless of one’s view on the Bundy family, Thursday’s verdict highlights the depth of that animosity and mistrust.

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