By February 23, 2017 at 1:37 PMon
An FBI agent on Thursday showed jurors a slew of photos and messages that he found on defendant Darryl Thorn’s Facebook page, including Thorn’s stated plan of “sneaking back ” onto the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a year ago.
Thorn, a member of Washington’s 3 percent militia, proclaimed in a Feb. 4, 2016, private Facebook message: “I won’t let my brothers and sisters die by themselves.”
He talked of his plan to go back to the refuge, saying, “I have a good lay out of the land.”
He said he’d been leading a “handful of boots” and referred to rallying points, including the Super 8 Motel in Redmond as a place to gather. It was at the hotel that FBI agents arrested Thorn in the continental breakfast bar on Feb. 11, 2016 — the same day the last four holdouts at the occupied refuge surrendered to the FBI.
“I’m not afraid of death – liberty and freedom replaces fear,” Thorn wrote in another message that day.
Thorn’s Facebook posts between Jan. 3, 2016, and mid-February last year included one of him posing with co-defendant Eric Lee Flores in the refuge watchtower, each holding assault rifles and Thorn flashing a three-finger symbol of his militia membership, FBI Agent Matthew Yeager testified. Flores has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the case.
Thorn’s Facebook posts were among the evidence shown to jurors during the third day of the trial against Thorn and three co-defendants, Jason Patrick, Duane Ehmer and Jake Ryan. All are accused of conspiring to impede federal employees from carrying out their work at the federal refuge last winter.
Thorn’s defense lawyer, Marc Friedman, suggested that his 32-year-old client “perhaps wanted to play himself up as being more than he was.” He asked Yeager if he had any knowledge that Thorn physically tried to get back on the refuge, and the agent just pointed back to Thorn’s social media posts.
In one photo, Thorn smirked, balancing a cigarette in his mouth, as he stood dressed in black, armed with a handgun in the watchtower, a walkie talkie balanced on his chest and the 3 percent insignia on a jacket sleeve.
“I love this picture of me and my girl on watch,” Thorn wrote in another Facebook message posted on Jan. 19, 2016, with a photo of him kissing his girlfriend beside a scope set up in the watchtower.
In a private message sent to co-defendant Jason Blomgren, Thorn posed with a Guy Fawkes mask concealing his face, a cowboy hat on his head with a gun pointed at the camera. Blomgren sent Thorn a photo back, holding a pistol to his own head.
“The Lord has a plan for me, but I’m not sure about you,” Thorn responded to Blomgren’s photo. Blomgren has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the case.
Prosecutors also showed jurors Facebook posts from occupation leader Ammon Bundy, including one in which he wrote that the Jan. 2 rally in Burns to support two Harney County ranchers was “much more than a protest.”
On Jan. 3, 2016, defendant Jason Patrick posted, “Malheur Refuge headquarters liberated for and by the people.”
A U.S. Bureau of Land Management special agent and several refuge employees testified earlier in the day about how the occupation hindered their work.
In an obvious effort to leave little open to interpretation, prosecutors pointedly asked several refuge employees if the armed occupation “impeded” their jobs – whether it was refuge biologist Linda Beck’s efforts to control carp on the wildlife sanctuary, habitat ecologist Jess Wenich’s plan to conduct bird surveys or refuge fire management officer Shane Theall’s prep for a prescribed burn in nearby Diamond.
“I wasn’t able to perform my duties because I didn’t have access,” Beck testified. “There were people occupying the refuge with guns, and I couldn’t go to work.”
Defense lawyers countered by questioning each U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employee about whether any of the four defendants on trial ever objected to their work or duties or sent them threatening emails. The employees said they didn’t know, but never received any correspondence from the defendants.
Beck, who said she’s proud of her “Carp Lady” nickname, identified photos taken during the occupation that showed Ammon Bundy sitting at her desk, his brother Ryan Bundy leaning on her desk and guns in her office.
“The Patriot Bible is not mine,” she said, pointing to a book among the debris found in her office by FBI evidence teams.
Beck no longer works at the refuge, but is an aquatic and invasive species officer in a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field office, she said.
As prosecutors showed jurors photos of Patrick cutting a barbed-wire fence on the perimeter of the refuge, habitat ecologist Jess Wenick told jurors that the fence was important to keep cattle off the property to protect exposed burial sites belonging to the Burns Paiute Tribe and nesting marsh birds.
Defense lawyers tried to point out that it was the refuge manager Chad Karges who ordered his refuge staff not to come back to work during the occupation.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow asked Wenick, for example, if he would have come back to work had his boss not ordered him to stay away.
“I would not have, no,” Wenick testified. “Seeing automatic rifles in our watchtower and our gates … it certainly was not an inviting atmosphere to go to work at.”
He said he was also influenced by statements occupiers made to the media that they weren’t going to allow federal ownership of the refuge.
Wenick, as he did in the first Oregon standoff trial, said the office of co-worker and wildlife biologist Faith Healy looked like a “technological sweatshop” after the occupation.
He said it had “an incredible stench that didn’t go away until new carpet and paint” were added. He testified that it appeared as if historical government documents were being scanned in Healy’s office during the occupation.
“I spent all summer trying to get my file system in order — it was total chaos,” Wenick said.
Government witness Marilyn Miller, an avid birder who has her own forestry and wildlife consulting business, testified that she encountered Ryan Payne and four other men at the Malheur Field Station on Jan. 24, 2016. Payne told her they thought it was a “safe place” for target shooting, and she told them to leave, she said.
As she drove up to the station and to check on the manager’s personal residence, she said she and her husband heard gunfire and then five armed men blocking their path.
She said the field station is part of the refuge, but the facilities on it are privately owned, about four miles west of the refuge headquarters.
“To be surrounded by men who were armed was very intimidating,” she said.
— Maxine Bernstein