A week out West: Oregon militia standoff hits day 7
On Friday, seven days after an armed militia took over a federal wildlife center in a remote part of eastern Oregon, the local sheriff slammed the group’s unwillingness to leave based on statements the leaders had made earlier in the day.
“During this morning's press conference, the people on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge made it clear that they have no intention of honoring the sheriff's request to leave,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in a statement. “Because of that, there are no planned meetings or calls at this time. However, the sheriff is keeping all options open.”
The group, which calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, took over the refuge on Saturday to protest the re-sentencing of two Oregonian ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond. The two men were found guilty of arson when they started a fire to clear their property that spread to federal lands. Dwight, 73, originally received a sentence of three months in prison while Steve spent one year and a day in prison. However, federal prosecutors appealed their sentences and requested that they receive the minimum of five years. The Hammonds turned themselves in on Monday.
Ward had met with militia leader Ammon Bundy on Thursday to end the situation peacefully. The sheriff offered the two dozen or so armed members safe passage on the condition they leave Oregon. Bundy, the son of anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy of Nevada, “kindly declined” the deal, telling reporters, “we always consider what people say.”
The militia members ‒ most of whom are not from Oregon, let alone the town of Bend ‒ have been allowed to come and go as they please since they took over. Their leaders, Ammon and his brother Ryan Bundy, did give an 11-year-old reporter an interview for his local school paper. The school has been closed due to the standoff.
Also on Thursday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown released a statement decrying the activities of Bundy’s militia and ordering the group to “decamp immediately and be held accountable.” She called the occupation a part of “tactics we Oregonians don’t agree with.”
The Citizens for Constitutional Freedom are demanding the federal government relinquish its claim to about three-quarters of the land in the county, then “return” it to the local residents. However, those same local residents are unhappy with the militia presence. At a Harney County community meeting Wednesday night, residents cheered when Ward called on the outsiders to go home.
The federal government didn’t steal the land from the locals, however. It was taken from the indigenous people in what was to become Harney County nearly two centuries ago.
"The protesters have no right to this land. It belongs to the native people who live here," Charlotte Rodrique, chair of the Paiute tribe in Burns, said Wednesday in front of the tribe’s cultural center. The Burns Paiute accused the Bundy-led group of "desecrating one of our sacred sites."
Three members of a different militia group, Veterans on Patrol, arrived at the compound on Wednesday. By that night, one was hospitalized with a black eye after being punched in the face. The small secondary group was trying to get women and children out of the camp set up by Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. The main group has been accused of using women and children as human shields against federal officials.
Earlier in the day, police disconnected the electricity to a building at the far end of the nature reserve ‒ about 30 miles from the militia’s camp ‒ to prevent them from taking over a second location, the Oregonian reported. Electricity remains on in the refuge headquarters, however.
The actions by law enforcement were a far cry from rumors of a raid that circulated through the camp in the overnight hours, however. Ammon Bundy said Tuesday night that he had heard police were preparing to arrest him, complete with warrants, leading the militants to move heavy equipment owned by the federal government across roadways in the refuge. The militia leaders also said that the group wouldn’t stand down until the wildlife center was privatized.
On Monday, the militia members set off a social media storm after asking for snacks to be shipped to Malheur.