Ammon Bundy and His Gang Must Go to Jail

They committed sedition. They seized illegal control of federal property. This is not complicated. So why don’t I think they’ll be arrested?

01.19.16 5:01 AM ET

If we don’t want to see more gangs of armed men take up arms against the United States every time they disagree with federal government policy, then every single person in the Oregon siege must be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Period.

But shockingly there are signs that these men may go free. The local sheriff, David Ward, just a few days ago met with their leader, Ammon Bundy, and offered them “safe passage” out of the state. Bundy, who has called for a meeting on Friday between his men and local authorities to discuss this, noted that they will likely take the sheriff’s offer and “we will go out of this state and out of this county as free men.”

Free men?! Well, actually I’m all for these men being free eventually. But first they deserve “safe passage” from the federal building they have illegally commandeered to the back of police car. From there they should be taken to police station where they will be fingerprinted, etc. and charged with a string of federal crimes.

Then they should be arraigned before a judge, and if they can make bail, released until they have their day in court. If all goes as it seems it should, they will be convicted of at least one felony, be required under federal law to give up their weapons, and then serve time in prison. And, assuming they don’t cause more problems while in federal prison, they will then be released and finally have earned the right to be “free men.” But only then should they be free men.

These armed men must be called to answer for their crimes just like any other American. The most serious charge they likely face is “sedition.” Under federal law, “seditious conspiracy” is defined as using force “to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority.” The Bundy gang illegally taking control of federal property because they want to coerce the federal government to change its policies is the very definition of sedition. This crime carries with it a prison term of up to 20 years.

They also intentionally destroyed federal property a few days ago, namely a fence that was erected to prevent local farmers from allowing their cattle to graze on federal property. This fence was built by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using a $100,000 grant. Destruction of federal property that exceeds $1,000 in value is punishable by a fine and imprisonment of up to 10 years.

And the list of crimes goes on from there, from trespassing to unauthorized use of government property (they used a government computer to build a website and utilized government vehicles). They also may be charged for violating Oregon state law.

In addition to jail time, these men should be ordered to reimburse the government for the costs associated with their crimes. An Oregon judge noted that the county’s security costs in connection with this siege are $70,000 per day.

Despite what some on the right argue, these armed anti-government protesters are not just like the Occupy Wall Street protesters. But if you do want to compare them, then keep in mind that nearly 8,000 Occupy protesters were arrested. And while the criminal charges were later dismissed against many, some had to endure a full trial and even jail time.

In addition, Occupy protesters were forcibly dragged off sidewalks by the police, and infamously, one group of protesters had mace sprayed in their faces while doing nothing more than sitting on the sidewalk. What a contrast to what we are seeing now with the Bundy insurgents. These men are destroying federal property in full public view, and the police simply sit idly by. (And I hardly even need to note how much differently the authorities would treat the armed men if they were black or Muslim.)

Justice demands that these men go to jail. After all Sister Kathleen Desautels was sentenced to six months in jail for trespassing on a U.S. military base for a matter of minutes in connection with a protest opposing U.S. military policy. Desautels and others simply went around the fence surrounding the military base and were then immediately arrested by police waiting on the other side.

Should an unarmed nun who sneaked onto a military base and was quickly arrested without incident get more jail time than an armed group of men who have illegally taken control of a federal building for weeks, intentionally destroyed federal property, and vowed that they will kill people if they are attacked?

Sheriff Ward should be commended for wanting to end this standoff peacefully. And his offer of safe passage does not necessarily mean no criminal charges will be filed, despite how Bundy views it. Although even safe passage alone is a generous offer given that not only has Ward been subject to death threats by Bundy supporters, his wife had to leave town for her own safety after her tires were slashed and she was followed by strangers. And even more disturbing, the sheriff’s elderly parents have been harassed by Bundy supporters.

As a nation, we cannot make the same mistake as last year when the armed standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada ended with no arrests. If that happens here, expect even more of these types of armed standoffs and possibly even innocent Americans being killed. Bundy and his men are not above the law simply because they claim they are on a mission from God. Just like ISIS militants are not above the law by making the identical claim.