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Refuge Occupier Jon Ritzheimer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

Malheur refuge occupier Jon Ritzheimer pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to prevent federal employees through force and intimidation from doing their jobs.

“I forcibly occupied the refuge,” Ritzheimer, 32, told U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown. “I can see how my conduct and my actions there would be intimidating."

Prosecutors recommend Ritzheimer serve two-and-a-half years in prison for his role.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Ritzheimer, from Peoria, Arizona, will also have to pay restitution.

He is the 11th person to plead guilty in the case.

In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed two other charges against Ritzheimer: possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in a federal facility and theft of government property.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said Ritzheimer removed FBI cameras. The cameras were attached to a light pole on the road between Burns, Oregon and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, to presumably monitor who was coming and going from the refuge.

Ritzheimer, a Marine veteran, organized an anti-Islam demonstration in May 2015 outside a Phoenix mosque. In an emotional video that went viral, just before the Malheur occupation began, Ritzheimer told his children he couldn’t be with them at Christmas because he swore an oath to protection the Constitution.

“On Jan. 2, I became aware of a plan to take the protest to the next level,” Ritzheimer said while pleading guilty in court Monday.

Ritzheimer was referring to the rally in Burns to protest against the imprisonment of Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. That peaceful march through Burns ended when the occupiers took over the refuge.

Gabriel said after moving through the buildings at the headquarters of the refuge and blocking off the entrance with his pickup, Ritzheimer and others in the advanced party signaled to Ammon Bundy that the refuge was secure for their arrival.

Ritzheimer will be sentenced May 8.

<p>Jon E. Ritzheimer</p>

Courtesy of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office

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Jon E. Ritzheimer

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.