A so-called militia with ties to Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has seized a remote federal building in a frigid southeast Oregon wildlife refuge with no plans to leave.
Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy, was among the self-described militiamen occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters and visitor center with eyes to take over the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fire station near Frenchglen, the Oregonian reported.
“We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely,”
Ammon Bundy told The Oregonian.
“This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.”
It’s unclear how many militia members are camped out at the Malheur building, but Harney County Sheriff’s Office has asked residents to stay clear of the federal land.
Bundy is already asking others to join him and a handful of others at the refuge.
At least four men were seen trudging through a snow-covered road at the refuge entrance.
Bundy, who lives in Idaho, called upon fellow militia members to “come prepared” and join protesters decrying federal overreach and rallying behind two ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, who were re-sentenced in October to five years in prison for arson.
Bundy addressed reporters from the refuge late Saturday as he and others stood around a bonfire, their breaths visible in the single-digit weather.
“We pose no threat to anybody,”
said Bundy, when asked how he and demonstrators would respond to law enforcement officials attempting to suppress them.
“There’s no person that is physically harmed by what we’re doing.”
A judge ordered the Hammonds to report to a California prison Monday to begin a sentence deemed fit for the 2012 conviction.
The two men set two fires in 2001 on 2006 on federal land leased by the Hammonds for cattle grazing.
“If they come to bring physical harm to us, they will be doing it because of a facility or a building.
I don’t believe that warrants killing people,”
Among the occupiers are several members of the Bundy family, whose patriarch Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was involved in an armed standoff with government agents over grazing rights in 2014.
“The war has just begun, “
Ammon Bundy said after his family won their spat with the government over grazing rights in 2014.
Now, Ammon and two of his brothers are part of an armed militia that has taken over a building at a wildlife refuge to protest a pair of ranchers’ prison sentences for arson on federal land.
Here’s a look at how the 2014 confrontation unfolded.
Noting that the group isn’t holding hostages, Ryan Bundy echoed his brother, telling the Oregonian that the group doesn’t want to resort to violence but will not rule it out if authorities attempt to remove the occupiers from the property.
He said many of the occupiers would be willing to fight and die to reclaim constitutionally protected rights for local land management, according to the Associated Press.
The group is calling for the Hammonds’ release and said the militia was planning an occupation that lasted “for years.”
“The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control,”
Ryan Bundy told the Oregonian.
“What we’re doing is not rebellious. What we’re doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.”
“The Refuge represents a crucial stop along the Pacific Flyway and offers resting, breeding, and nesting habitat for hundreds of migratory birds and other wildlife,”
a statement on the site says.
“Many of the species migrating through or breeding here are highlighted as priority species in national bird conservation plans.”
At Sunday’s news conference, Ammon Bundy said the refuge’s creation was
“an unconstitutional act,”
one that removed local ranchers from their lands, thrusting the county into an economic depression.
“This refuge here is rightfully owned by the people and we intend to use it,”
adding that they plan to assisting ranchers, loggers, hunters and campers who want to use the land.
“We will be here as a unified body of people that understand the principles of the Constitution.”
“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,”
Ammon Bundy told the Oregonian that he and two of his brothers were among a group of dozens of people occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward urged the public to stay away from the area as authorities work to resolve the standoff, according to the Oregonian.
“A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution,”
Ward said in a statement reported by the paper.
“For the time being please stay away from that area.
More information will be provided as it becomes available.
Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.”
Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, told the AP that the bureau was aware of the situation at the wildlife refuge, but she declined further comment.
“While the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee safety, and we can confirm that no federal staff were in the building at the time of the initial incident,”
the spokesperson said.
“We will continue to monitor the situation.”
Cliven Bundy told Oregon Public Broadcasting on Saturday night that he wasn’t involved in the standoff, but he struck a sympathetic tone.
“That’s not exactly what I thought should happen, but I didn’t know what to do,”
“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.”
Late Saturday, the occupiers blocked the entrance of the federal headquarters with a pickup truck and placed an American flag over the welcome sign, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
An Oregon State Police car
“idled by the side of the road just outside Burns,”
the broadcaster reported, but there were no signs of a larger law enforcement presence in the area.
“We are not hurting anybody or damaging any property.,”
Ammon Bundy told OPB.
“We would expect that they understand that we have given them no reason to use lethal force upon us or any other force.”