What began as a legal protest over prison sentences handed down to two ranchers in Oregon convicted of arson ended up with an armed militia taking over a national wildlife headquarters.
The militia says it plans to remain in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Burns, Oregon, “for years.”
As reported by The Oregonian, the militia stormed the building following a peaceful rally:
The occupation came shortly after an estimated 300 marchers - militia and local citizens both - paraded through Burns to protest the prosecution of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who are to report to prison on Monday.
Ammon Bundy and two of his brothers are among a group of dozens of people occupying the headquarters. They are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 standoff with the government over cattle grazing rights.
Bundy told paper:
“The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds. We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we've made at the last minute.”
He said the group took action because “the people have been abused long enough,” adding:
“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.”
Dwight Hammond Jr., 70, and his son, Steven Hammond, 43, were convicted in June for setting a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on which they had grazing permits.
Another member of the group, Blaine Cooper, compared the federal government to a school bully in an interview with KTVZ-TV:
"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.”
Regardless of the outcome of the standoff, it doesn't change anything for the Hammonds, who will report to prison on Monday.
“See you in five years,” Dwight Hammond said.