A group of heavily armed men have stormed a federal building for wildlife refuge in the state of Oregon, United States over land dispute with federal authorities.
The armed men, many of them ranchers, accused the federal authorities of unfairly punishing poor ranchers who refused to sell and leave their lands to federal authorities.
The ranchers pointed out that the Harney County area used to be the richest in state, but now, due to the actions of federal authorities of forcing ranchers to sell their lands, the area is now the poorest in the state. And the only way to solve the situation is to have armed “patriots” come and live in a de-facto self-rule zone independently of federal authorities.
It is said that federal authorities in the area, over the years, have been forcing ranchers to sell their lands in order to use them as conservation sites.
According to reliable information we gathered on the ground, a District Judge recently sentenced one Dwight Lincoln Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, to five years in prison for committing arsons on federal lands. Dwight and his son are both ranchers in Harney County.
CNN reported that prosecutors said the Hammonds set the fire, burning about 130 acres of land in 2001 to cover up poaching.
But the Hammonds defended themselves in court by stating they lit the fire to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. However, their defense was blatantly rejected by the presiding judge, Ann Aiken. The Hammonds are expected to report to prison on Monday, 4thJanuary.
Supporters of the Hammonds said the Hammonds were treated unconstitutionally because the two were convicted of the arson under a provision of an expansive federal law punishing terrorism. And they both served their prison terms for 2001 and 2006 fires, but were then told by these same judges that they have to go back to prison to serve more.
Therefore, in solidarity with the Hammonds, and to show that they are fed up, some 300 people marched through the town of Burns on Saturday, January 2nd to protest against the decision of the court. They also protested against the federal authorities for unjustly encroaching and taking over their lands where their animals graze.
Then on Sunday, January3rd, the ranchers organized themselves into a group, armed themselves heavily and seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, challenging the federal government for a showdown out of frustration. The ranchers claimed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has taken over the space of some 100 ranches since the early 1900s.
“We’re going to be freeing these lands up, and getting ranchers back to ranching, getting the loggers back to logging, getting the miners back to mining where they could do it under the protection of the people and not be afraid of this tyranny that’s been set upon them”, spokesman for the armed ranchers, Ammon Bundy posted on Facebook.
CNN also quoted Bundy saying “We will be here as long as it takes. We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, but if force is used against us, we will defend ourselves”.
Local media identified Bundy as the son of Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy who drew national attention last year after staging a standoff with federal authorities over a Bureau of Land Management dispute.
Bundy said the ranchers are being forced to leave their lands, and those who resist are treated like terrorist.
“Now that people such as the Hammonds are taking a stand and not selling their ranches, they are being prosecuted in their own courts as terrorists and putting them in prison for five years”, he added.
The ranchers claimed they are up to 150 people, and they will sacrifice their lives to free the area from the unjust actions of the federal authorities. It is unclear when they will leave the building. And it is unclear whether the federal authorities will call for armed police or the National Guard.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson said the agency and the Bureau of Land Management are aware of the armed protesting ranchers. It is said no federal staff were in the building when it was seized by the ranchers.