Anti-government sentiment came to a head in Oregon on Saturday when a group of armed militiamen seized the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the southeast portion of the state. The takeover, led by Ammon Bundy, was in protest of the sentencing of two ranchers who pled guilty to arson on public lands.
The Oregon father and son, Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, admitted setting fire to grazing parcels they leased from the federal government, though they said it was to fight invasive species and wildfires, not to commit arson. The feds disagreed, won guilty pleas, and the two served time in prison, Dwight three months, Steven a year. A federal judge ruled that the sentences weren’t long enough and ordered them to report to prison today.
“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams. “Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze.”
Their case became a rallying point for anti-federalist militias, who gathered in Burns, Oregon, about 30 miles north of the refuge, in protest. The peaceful protest soon turned into an armed takeover; the Oregonian reported that the seizure had been planned for some time.
Indeed, representatives of the convicted ranchers said the militia efforts were unwanted and unconnected. “Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond family,” W. Alan Schroeder, lawyer for the Hammonds, wrote to the Harney County sheriff.
The name Bundy might ring a bell. Last year, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy stood down the Bureau of Land Management over $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees, and Ammon is his son. Other men involved with the Malheur takeover include Ryan Bundy, another Cliven son; Ryan Payne, a Montana veteran involved in the 2014 Bundy confrontation; Blaine Cooper, an Arizona militiaman also at the Bundy ranch; and Jon Ritzheimer, who garnered headlines last year for his anti-Muslim speech.
Ammon Bundy said his group will hold the refuge “as long as we need to be,” he said.
“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. 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.”