Armed right-wing militiamen have taken over a federal wildlife refuge headquarters in rural Oregon and vowed to remain in place. The occupation began after a protest Saturday in support of two ranchers sentenced to prison for setting fires that burned federal land. After the protest, armed antigovernment militia members took over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which was vacant because of the holidays. The apparent leader is Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Cliven Bundy refused to pay decades’ worth of cattle grazing fees, prompting a standoff with federal rangers last year in Nevada, during which an armed militia rallied to his support. Cliven Bundy declared victory last April after the federal government backed down and released cattle they had seized from him. Speaking over the weekend, Ammon Bundy said he wants federal land turned over to ranchers in Harney County, Oregon.
Ammon Bundy: “It is the people’s facility, owned by the people, and it has been provided for us to be able to come together and unite in making a hard stand against this overreach, this taking of the people’s land and resources.”
In phone interviews with The Oregonian newspaper, Ammon Bundy’s brother, Ryan Bundy, said the militants are not seeking to hurt anyone, but would not rule out violence if authorities move in. Law enforcement have so far not approached the occupied building. Meanwhile, the Oregon ranchers at the center of the dispute have distanced themselves from the Bundys; an attorney for Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven said “neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speaks for the Hammond family.”