A group of armed men “standing up” against the “tyranny” of the government have occupied a federal building in Oregon after protesting the prosecution of two ranchers facing jail time for arson of federal land.
The group, lead by Ammon Bundy — the 40-year-old son of Cliven Bundy, infamous for his own armed standoff against federal agents over cattle-grazing rights in 2014 — told reporters at The Oregonian they plan to occupy the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge “indefinitely.”
“The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds,” Ammon Bundy said.
“We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely,” he added. “This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.”
It is suspected the group is comprised of dozens of men, though the exact number is unclear. In a phone call to CNN, Bundy refused to reveal the number of protestors in the building, saying the information might jeopardize “operational security.”
“We are using the wildlife refuge as a place for individuals across the United States to come and assist in helping the people of Harney County claim back their lands and resources,” he said.
“The people will need to be able to use the land and resources without fear as free men and women. We know it will take some time.”
For Bundy, the goal of the occupation is to force the government’s hand in turning over land to ranchers and miners. The ongoing battle was refueled by the case of two Oregon ranchers, 73-year-old Dwight Hammond and his 46-year-old son, Steven Hammond. The two — facing up to five years in prison — are scheduled to report to federal prison Monday for the arson to public land in 2001 and 2006. Bundy, his brothers and a group of armed men from neighboring states have attached themselves to the Hammond’s cause for land rights. The two have already spent time behind bars — the eldest Hammond spent three months in jail while his son was given a year, but a judge recently ruled their sentences were too short under federal law.
Bundy and his group of armed men aren’t taking the new sentencing lightly, telling The Oregonian they are willing to fight and die to protect their right to manage land.
“We will be here as long as it takes,” Bundy said. “We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, (but) if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves.”
“The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control,” he said. “What we’re doing is not rebellious. What we’re doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.”
Interestingly enough, it seems the Hammond’s don’t want the militia’s help.
According to VOX:
At first, according to the Oregonian, the Hammonds “accepted the militia’s offer of help to avoid prison.” But they “changed their minds after being warned by federal prosecutors to stop communicating with the militia” and have now “professed through their attorneys that they had no interest in ignoring the order to report for prison.”
Ammon also tried to recruit residents from the surrounding area, reportedly meeting with 10 or so locals, but they all turned him down.
The Oregonian interviewed some locals who expressed sympathy for the Hammonds and for the militia’s “constitutional arguments” but ultimately rejected the militia for its extremism.
The militia, the local fire chief told the newspaper, “seems like a bunch of people ready to shoot. I don’t want that in my county.”
Also conspicuously missing? A coordinated government or law enforcement response to remove the armed men from the federal building, something not lost on those who observed or participated in peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson in Baltimore to curb police violence, many of which were met with an aggressive response from the National Guard and police in tactical gear.
The protestors in those cases were unarmed. The men who are occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters are not only armed, but have expressed that they are willing to defend themselves if authorities come in to move them.
Saturday night, hours after the occupation, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward released a statement, asking the public to remain peaceful as law enforcement worked on a solution.
“After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.”
The government has yet to give a response, a non-action that has many shooting a quizzical glance at a nation quick to tear gas residents protesting the death of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.
This is a developing story.