What Does The Oregon "Militia" Want? The Bundy Brothers Have Outlined Their "Best Possible Outcome"
A group of armed protesters seized a federal building on Saturday night in rural southeast Oregon in a stand against what they see as oppression by the federal government. The group, which reportedly is composed of over 100 militants, though that has not been confirmed, allegedly entered the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters on Saturday and are prepared to stay there "as long as is necessary." But what does the Oregon "militia" want?
Two central figures in the occupation are Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in an infamous standoff with federal officials in 2014 over land rights. According to Ryan Bundy, the group is demanding that Dwight and Steven Hammond, two ranchers convicted of arson on federal land, be released and that the government give up its claim to the Malheur National Forest. During a phone interview with The Oregonian, Bundy outlined what he believes to be "the best possible outcome" from the perspective of the protesters.
The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area ... will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control.
The scope of the protesters' demands is huge, literally. The land, which was established as a national wildlife refuge in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, covers almost 300 square miles and provides a home for dozens of native species. But the Bundys claim that the land needs to be returned to the local ranchers, who they say have suffered economically under the federal government's "abuse" of power.
The protest was originally inspired by two ranchers in particular — Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son who were convicted on arson charges for burning federal land. Both men were convicted for setting a fire in 2001 to allegedly cover up evidence of deer poaching and Steven Hammond was found guilty of arson again for an offense from 2006. The Hammonds claim it was an attempt to protect their own land from an invasive plant species and an impending wildfire, CNN reported.
Dwight, 73, served three months, and Steven, 46, served one year, back in 2013, but the U.S. attorney on the case demanded that the mandatory minimum of five years outlined in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 be implemented. The Hammonds were ordered to report to federal prison in San Pedro, California, on Monday, which they still plan to do, according to CBS News. In fact, the Hammonds' lawyer said the Hammonds did not ask for the Bundys' involvement, stating, "Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family."
Spurred by the Hammonds' impending incarceration and the local support of the ranchers, the Bundys have taken this opportunity to bring national attention to their cause. They see the control of land by the federal government as unconstitutional and oppressive to the people, who could use the land as a source of wealth and revenue. The Hammonds, it seems, simply provided a springboard to launch into this larger issue. In their "best possible outcome," the entire Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will be turned over to the people of Oregon and the Hammonds will not serve further jail time.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward released a statement late Saturday night urging residents to stay clear of the area, but in a video posted to the Bundy Ranch Facebook page, the Bundys said they are "calling all freedom loving people" to join the protest. If the protesters get their way, the Hammonds won't have to serve their prison sentence, but the protest has turned into something much bigger, according to Ammon Bundy. "The Hammonds are just an example or a symptom of a very huge, egregious problem, but it's happening all across the United States ... Those who feel a need to stand, we're asking them to come."