Who Are The Bundy Brothers? The Oregon "Militia" Protest Isn't The First Family Standoff
A group of protesters seized the federally-managed Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building in southeast Oregon on Saturday, and leading the charge were Ryan and Ammon Bundy, a pair of brothers from Nevada who have a history of anti-government protesting. The Bundy brothers now seem to be the face and voice of the Oregon "militia," which plans to occupy the building "as long as it takes" to achieve their demands of the federal government turning over the wildlife refuge to local ranchers.
The Bundy family's first foray into protesting came in April 2014, when their father, Cliven Bundy, engaged in a heated stand against government officials in the culmination of a decades-long dispute about grazing rights. The Bureau of Land Management captured 170 cattle that had grazed on federal land, because Bundy had allegedly refused to pay over $1 million worth of grazing fees since the 1990s. Bundy responded with a protest that reportedly drew an armed crowd of supporters. NBC News reported at the time that the Bundy brothers were with their father in the standoff, which at one point escalated to protesters turning guns on federal officers. Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie chose to "deescalate" the situation, and the protest ended with Bundy's demands being met and his impounded cattle returned.
The victory against federal officials apparently emboldened Cliven Bundy, who briefly became a frequent guest on conservative talk shows and a Republican party celebrity, including support from Sen. Rand Paul. But just two weeks after his infamous standoff, Bundy drew more national attention due to racist remarks, when he asserted that African Americans were better off as slaves.
Bundy quickly faded out of the public eye, but emerged once again to comment on his sons' involvement in the developing Oregon protests. He denied any involvement in the protest, but stated support for his sons' action. "If the Hammonds wouldn't stand, if the sheriff didn't stand, then, you know, the people had to do something," Bundy told Oregon Public Broadcast on Saturday night.
The "militia" is demanding that Dwight and Steven Hammond, two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of arson on federal land and apparently inspired the protest, be released immediately. The Hammonds were ordered to report to federal prison on Monday in San Pedro, California, after a circuit judge ruled that the initial sentences for their crimes had been insufficient. Dwight served three months for one count from 2001, and Steven served one year for two counts in 2001 and 2006, but the U.S. attorney on the case pushed for the mandatory minimum sentence of five years under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The Hammonds' lawyer said the Hammonds did not ask for the Bundys' help. He said, "Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family."
The Bundy brothers are now embroiled in another protest drawing national attention, which they seem determined to continue until their demands are met. Their history with this type of standoff against government officials gives the brothers a unique experience and perspective that might have informed their preparations for the seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters, and their political ideologies could once again play out in a heated protest in the national spotlight.