By Maxine Bernstein The Oregonian/OregonLive August 7, 2017.
The youngest Oregon refuge occupier to face indictment acknowledged Monday that he was an “arrogant, ignorant young man” who made an impulsive mistake in going to the bird sanctuary last year and doing guard duty during the armed takeover.
“If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it again,” Travis Cox said, standing beside his lawyer during his sentencing hearing.
He was ordered to serve two years of probation, including two months on home detention, for conspiring to impede federal workers through intimidation, threat or force during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Cox was 20 when he signed in at the eastern Oregon refuge on Jan. 9, 2016, and stayed until the night of Jan. 26, 2016, when police arrested the occupation’s leaders as they traveled to a community meeting.
Cox, now 22 and living with his mother in Redmond, said his reasoning was “convoluted” at the time.
“It was just a hasty decision by an arrogant and ignorant young man who didn’t respect the law,” he said. “… I would never do something like this again. It has been a very difficult learning experience for me.”
U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown said she believed Cox had matured and now realized there are other ways to resolve disputes.
“I think it’s important to note, if my memory is correct, you’re the first person who’s acknowledged this was a mistake,” the judge said.
Cox’s mother, Diane Cox, and fiancee Emily Brenholdt testified to vouch for his character. His mother described Cox’s participation in the occupation as a “small blip in Travis’ life,” calling him a personable and hard-working young man. He’s worked for a pizzeria and most recently a construction company and is getting married next August.
He got engaged on Dec. 25, 2016, but was seriously dating Brenholdt at the time he left for the refuge.
“Imagine the conversations,” the judge quipped.
The government has a photo of Cox on guard duty with a rifle slung over his shoulder and a video showing him with a handgun on his hip in a refuge bunk room, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said.
A search of the refuge by an FBI evidence response team turned up a Remington .308-caliber rifle that Cox had bought in September 2015, the prosecutor said.
On the night that he ended up leaving the refuge, Cox posted on his Facebook page, “let it be known, that free men stood against tyrants. If I die here, I go with love in my heart, and brothers by my side.”
He was arrested several months later, surrendering to federal authorities on an arrest warrant on in April 2016 in Cedar City, Utah.
Prosecutors urged that Cox receive four months of home detention, representing two months off the sentencing guideline of six months, for the nearly two months Cox served in jail pending trial.
Cox’s lawyer Paul Hood sought no home detention and one year of supervised release, arguing that the 51 days that Cox spent in custody after his arrest was sufficient punishment.
“Mr. Cox made a mistake. It was a significant mistake, and Mr. Cox knows that,” Hood wrote in a sentencing memo. “He has accepted responsibility for his conduct, and he has worked and continues to work to move forward on a better path.”
Cox’s participation in the takeover came shortly after a significant disruption in his life, the sudden divorce of his parents after 29 years of marriage in June 2015, Hood wrote.
The judge split the difference in giving Cox two months on home detention. She also ordered that Cox must not occupy, live or camp on any federal land and he’s prohibited from entering any land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service or U.S. Forest Service without the written approval of his probation officer.
Eleven people pleaded guilty to the felony of conspiring to impede federal employees through intimidation, threat or force from doing their work during the occupation. Their sentences are expected to range from home detention and probation to three years and five months in prison, Gabriel said.
Cox and four others, Geoffrey Stanek, Wesley Kjar, Eric Lee Flores and Jason Blomgren, are considered “low-level defendants” facing similar probationary sentences. Stanek received six months on home detention; Flores got five months on home detention. Kjar and Blomgren have sentencing dates later this year.
The government will recommend Ryan Payne receive three years and five months in prison, the longest sentence of those who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, Gabriel said.
Occupation leaders Ammon Bundy, older brother Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants who went to trial last fall were acquitted of all charges. Two other defendants, Jason Patrick and Darryl Thorn, who went to trial this year, were found guilty of conspiracy and other misdemeanor charges. Jake Ryan and Duane Ehmer were found guilty of depredation of government property and other misdemeanor charges.
The Bundys said they and their followers seized the refuge in Harney County to protest the return to prison of two local ranchers for setting fires on public lands. They said they wanted local ranchers to have control over the federal refuge and use it for cattle grazing, logging and mining.