Oregon stalemate: Armed protesters to explain their exit plans

Arizona cattle rancher LaVoy Finicum talks to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon © Jim Urquhart
Armed anti-government protesters that have been occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon for over a week will host a community meeting to explain their position and announce when they will leave, according to local media.

“There should be a dialogue,” LaVoy Finicum, a rancher from Arizona said, when announcing that the first meeting of its kind would take place on Friday at 7 pm, reported The Oregonian.

Finicum said he was only relaying a message from Ammon Bundy, the group’s leader, and didn’t have any further information about the meeting except to say that protesters would drive to Burns to explain their position and exit plan. He said the group is securing a location for the meeting.

The armed protesters, few of whom are local, have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon since January 2. They argue that federal ownership of the land is unconstitutional and that it should belong to the local community.

“We may be breaking codes and regulations, but we are not breaking the supreme law of the land,” Ammon Bundy said in an exclusive interview with RT.

The laws on the books that are not constitutional, they are so tremendous, there are so many of them that every day you and I are breaking them and that’s part of the problem,” Bundy said. “Government has got to the point when they think they can make laws on anything.”

Bundy said people have been left with the choice of either obeying the government-imposed codes or making the government follow the US Constitution.

Initially, the group used the conviction of a pair of local ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who are serving five years in prison for arson, as their cause célèbre, saying they wouldn’t leave until they are free. The Hammonds were convicted for setting a couple of fires on their own land, one of which reached federal lands and had to be put out by federal firefighters.

A lawyer for the convicted ranchers insisted to The Oregonian that the armed group does not speak for the family.

Bundy’s group has said one of the reasons for the protest is to demand the transfer of federally owned land to the county, according to KTVZ-TV.

The Oregonian reported that local residents are increasingly unhappy with the takeover by the out-of-state group, and expressed their frustrations at a community meeting on Tuesday.

“There is an hourglass, and the fact is the time is running out,” said Harney County Sheriff David Ward to local residents, the news outlet reported.

More than a dozen Burns residents reported to authorities that they had been harassed by motorists in vehicles with out-of-state plates in both the lead-up to the occupation and afterwards

Other residents, however, are glad Bundy has brought attention to the plight of ranchers who want to use public land in the area as they please. Business owners at gas stations, cafes, and hotels have reported they are in the middle of a boom, serving packed crowds during the normally slow business time of the winter months.

Hotel manager Vickie Allen told Oregon Public Radio she’s never a seen a winter like this, with 38 occupied rooms every night.

“Sometimes we might only have one person in the house in the winter months – so this is a Godsend. It’s like having summer all winter long,” Allen said, adding that the guests are a strange mix of law enforcement and occupiers.

“The police don’t bother anybody; the militia don’t bother anybody,” Allen said. “We only get maybe two or three militia in here a week. They come in to clean up and go back out.”