Published January 03, 2016
Armed militia takes over Oregon wildlife refuge in protest
Armed protesters, including three sons of a Nevada rancher who battled with the government in 2014, vowed to occupy a federal building in Oregon for “as long as it takes,” as state and federal officials on Sunday sought to defuse the situation.
The protesters took over a federal wildlife refuge in a remote area near Burns, some 280 miles east of Portland, to protest the prosecution of a father and son facing jail time on an arson charge for burning 130 acres of land. Prosecutors said the fire was set to hide poaching, but the ranchers, who face five years in prison, and the protesters supporting them say it was set to stop invasive plants.
"We will be here as long as it takes," said Ammon Bundy, a spokesman for the group and the son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who clashed with the feds two years ago.
"We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, (but) if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves," Ammon Bundy said while issuing a broad appeal for others to come join the occupation in a show of support.
Those occupying the refuge claimed they had as many as 100 supporters with them. The occupation came shortly after 300 marchers paraded through Burns in support of ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who report to prison Monday.
The tense situation involved the Oregon State Police, the Harney County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward told people to stay away from the building as authorities work to defuse the situation, the Oregonian reported.
"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," Ward said in a statement.
On his Facebook page Ammon Bundy said “this is not a time to stand down. It’s a time to stand up and come to Harney County.”
"(asterisk)(asterisk)ALL PATRIOTS ITS TIME TO STAND UP NOT STAND DOWN!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! COME PREPARED," he wrote.
He told reporters late Saturday that the group was occupying the government building because “the people have been abused long enough.
"I feel we are in a situation where if we do not do something, if we do not take a hard stand, we'll be in a position where we'll be no longer able to do so," he said.
He vowed to occupy the facility as long as necessary, even years.
"The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds," Ammon Bundy said
Ammon Bundy’s brother, Ryan, told the paper the group isn’t looking to harm anyone, but wouldn’t back down if police try to remove them from the refuge site.
The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It had been closed and unoccupied over the holiday weekend, according to the Oregonian.
One of the occupiers, Blaine Cooper, told KTVZ-TV likened the occupation to what is done about bullies in school: “You have to put him in his place.”
"Now, I'm not going to be best friends with the BLM," he said. "The point is, until that line is drawn, that we have had enough of this tyranny and you are going to leave us alone, it will not change. This is the power of America, right here. ... This could be a hope that spreads through the whole United States,” Cooper added.
An Idaho militia leader who helped organize the march in Burns said he knew nothing about activities after a parade of militia members and local residents in Burns walked past the sheriff's office and the home of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven, the ranchers headed to jail.
Cliven Bundy told Oregon Public Broadcasting on Saturday night that he was not involved in the takeover.
He said his sons felt obligated to intervene on behalf of the Hammonds.
"That's not exactly what I thought should happen, but I didn't know what to do," he said. "You know, if the Hammonds wouldn't stand, if the sheriff didn't stand, then, you know, the people had to do something. And I guess this is what they did decide to do. I wasn't in on that."
He said his son Ammon told him they were there for the long run.
“I guess they figured they're going to be there for whatever time it takes and I don't know what that means," the father said. "I asked him, 'Well how long can ya, how long you going to stand out there?' He just told me it was for long term."
The Oregonian, citing government sources, reported the militia had planned to occupy a closed fire station near Frenchglen. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management sends its crews there during the fire season.
Dwight Hammond has said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison Jan. 4 as ordered by the judge.
The 73-year-old rancher and his 46-year-old son claim they lit the fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time — the father three months, the son one year. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.
The decision has generated controversy in a remote part of the state.
In particular, the Hammonds' new sentences touched a nerve with far right groups who repudiate federal authority.
Ammon Bundy and others protestors from other states arrived last month in Burns, some 60 miles from the Hammond ranch.
The Associated Press contributed to this report