PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge gave a blogger until noon Wednesday to delete information he published about confidential informants who helped law enforcement during last year's takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.
In an opinion posted late last week, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown found Gary Hunt in civil contempt of a court order. She said Hunt faces "coercive sanctions" if he does not comply with the deadline.
Hunt, 71, of Los Molinos, California, has been ignoring a cease-and-desist letter he received Jan. 5. At a hearing last month in Portland, Hunt argued his case, but said he would comply with the judge's order if she ruled against him.
Dozens of people, including nine informants, occupied the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016. Led by Ammon Bundy, they were protesting federal control of public lands and the imprisonment of two ranchers.
Before last fall's trial of Bundy and six others, the government provided the defense with redacted versions of "confidential human source" reports compiled by the FBI. The government also inadvertently provided some un-redacted versions.
Attorneys in the case were under orders not to share discovery material with outside parties.
Hunt said he doesn't know who mailed him the envelope that included a thumb drive containing the reports. Shortly after Bundy and the others were acquitted, he began cutting-and-pasting extensive sections of the reports onto his blog — Outpost of Freedom.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Pam Holsinger said Hunt published the information to help a second group of defendants preparing for the February 2017 trial that ended with guilty verdicts. She said outing the government informants threatens their safety and jeopardizes ongoing investigations.
Hunt told the judge he thinks the defense should have the names of informants — "If you don't know who the witness is, you can't call the witness" — but his primary purpose in posting the reports was to point out what he views as federal government overreach.
"I would lie if I said the defense would not be aided," Hunt said. "But that was a consequence of what I wrote — not the purpose."
Brown disagreed, saying Hunt "exceeded any First Amendment privilege protecting a journalist or commentator and crossed over into being a voluntary and active participant in the defense."
Brown ordered Hunt to remove the information from the website and destroy all remaining copies of the reports.