A group of armed protesters took over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon as part of a protest to support two ranchers who have been sentenced to jail for arson. Leading the pack of militiamen is Ammon Bundy. If that name sounds familiar is because he’s the son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who is known for his 2014 standoff with the federal government.
Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan Bundy told the Oregonian they don’t want to hurt anyone but don’t rule out violence if law enforcement tried to remove them. They’re also not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. “We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely,” Ammon Bundy said. “This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.” The two men refused to detail how many militiamen were taking part in the occupation but militia members claim there are as many as 150 people at the refuge.
Ammon Bundy told CNN the group was armed but wanted to be seen more as concerned citizens than a militia. “We are not terrorists,” Ammon Bundy said. “We are concerned citizens and realize we have to act if we want to pass along anything to our children.” When a Guardian reporter tried to enter the federal land shortly after the occupation began he was blocked from doing so by a man armed with an “AR-15-style rifle” who said the land belonged to the people. “This public land belongs to ‘we the people,’” he said. “We’ll be here enjoying the snow and the scenery.”
Over New Year’s, Ammon Bundy posted a video on Facebook asking for militia members to go to Oregon and help the cause. “This is not a time to stand down. It’s a time to stand up and come to Harney County,” he says in the video.
Cliven Bundy said he spoke to his son shortly after the occupation and was assured that “they were there for the long run.” He also insisted he had nothing to do with the takeover. “That’s not exactly what I thought should happen, but I didn’t know what to do,” Bundy told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “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.”
The occupation began shortly a couple of hundred people marched through Burns, Oregon to express their support for Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of arson for setting fires that spread to government lands. A federal court ruled their initial sentences were insufficient so they were ordered to report to prison on Monday. That decision has sparked a nerve with the far-right groups who have taken up the cause as their own.
“The Hammonds are an example, or a symptom, of a very huge egregious problem but it’s happening all across the United States,” Ammon Bundy said in an interview he posted on his Facebook page.