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Oregon sheriff says refuge occupiers trying to overthrow government

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  • A sign of the National Wildlife Refuge System is seen at an entry of the wildlife refuge, where some vehicles are seen used to block access to the inside of the refuge, about 30 miles southeast of Burns, Ore. today. Armed protesters are occupying a building at the national wildlife refuge and asking militia members around the country to join them. (Les Zaitz/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. » A group of armed activists who have seized control of part of a federal wildlife refuge in southern Oregon appear to be aiming “to overthrow the county and federal government,” a local law enforcement official said today.

Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward said authorities from “several organizations” are working to peacefully resolve the standoff, which began Saturday when an unknown number of armed activists occupied an uninhabited building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles outside the town of Burns, Ore.

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Ward said in a statement Sunday.

There were no signs of confrontation Sunday at the small refuge headquarters building, seized in what activists said was a protest against the federal prosecution of two ranchers and a bid to reclaim local control of federally managed land.

“We ask that people stay away from the refuge for their safety,” Ward said.

“At this time, we do not have any information that any other areas in Harney County are in immediate danger,” he said.

County officials announced that schools would remain closed through the week pending a resolution.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the FBI was leading the law enforcement response, in coordination with the Oregon State Police and local law enforcement authorities. Wyden said he was himself heading to southern Oregon to meet with local residents.

“I understand why rural Oregonians are so frustrated about this economy,” Wyden said a news conference. “But the next step from frustration is not to walk off a cliff, misled by some outsiders who seem willing to take the law into their own hands.”

Those leading what amounts to an armed occupation at the small, remote building say they are the vanguard of a national movement to resist the government’s ownership of vast stretches of land in the West.

The move began Saturday after a peaceful rally near Burns, where more than 150 people gathered in support of the ranchers who are facing additional jail time for arson.

A small, armed breakaway faction then moved on the wildlife refuge, which was closed and empty.

Dozens of protesters who marched through the town of Burns called for the federal government to back down in its enforcement of public lands regulations.

“We’re here to stand up for our brothers and sisters and show the world, show America: You mess with us, you mess with all of us,” co-organizer Jeff Roberts told a gathering.

“This isn’t an Oregon problem, this is a national problem, and it’s happening everywhere,” he said.

Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, said they set fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their Harney County property from wildfires.

The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time — Dwight three months, and Steven a year. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.

Hammond has said he and his son plan to report to prison Monday in Los Angeles as ordered by a judge, but the court decision has generated controversy across the West.

Protesters at the Burns rally came from as far away as Idaho, Nevada and Arizona.

“It’s about this community being trampled on,” one of the organizers, who did not identify himself, said as he stood on the bed of a pickup truck in the parking lot of a Safeway supermarket.

“This is the public saying we’re not going to take it anymore, we’ve had it … . The people of the republic are tired, and it starts right here in this parking lot, guys.”

The procession stopped briefly at the Hammonds’ home, where supporters greeted the elder Hammond on the front porch and sang “Amazing Grace.”

The group at the wildlife refuge is apparently led by sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who in 2014 led a standoff against federal agents who sought to collect Bundy’s cattle over his $1 million debt to the Bureau of Land Management for grazing fees.

Hundreds of self-styled militiamen flocked to Bundy’s ranch and, after pointing weapons at federal agents, ended the standoff.

At the time, BLM and law enforcement officials worried privately that the standoff would embolden the movement and cement Bundy’s status as a movement leader.

“We can enforce the Constitution in Harney County and that’s what we intend to do,” Bundy’s son Ammon told reporters at the rally. “We have a lot of plans.”

His father told Oregon Public Broadcasting that he had spoken to his son and it appeared he and his cohorts were equipped with food and a generator.

“He told me that they were there for the long run. I guess they figured they’re going to be there for whatever time it takes — and I don’t know what that means,” the elder Bundy said.

Another of Bundy’s sons, Ryan, who also appears to be at the wildlife refuge, told the Oregonian that the protesters want to see local control of federal land.

“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,” he said.

“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 main body of protesters sought to distance themselves from the breakaway faction, which Ammon Bundy said does not consider itself a militia, and the father and son for whom the protest was held are similarly unaffiliated with the occupation.

A number of Western conservatives have called for the return of federal lands to state and local government. The movement has waxed and waned since the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1980s, which centered on ranchers’ rights and the money that could be made from timber harvesting, mining and ranching, if only the federal government didn’t forbid such profitable endeavors.

The movement has picked up steam in recent years, led by Utah legislator Ken Ivory, who helms a national organization called the American Lands Council that tries to persuade county and state governments to pursue the ownership of federal lands. A watchdog group has accused him of fraud in three states for his use of taxpayer dollars.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a report on the Bundy standoff, said the militiamen and the federal land-return movement are part of the same spectrum.

“Anti-government extremists have long pushed, most fiercely during Democratic administrations, rabid conspiracy theories about a nefarious New World Order, a socialist, gun-grabbing federal government and the evils of federal law enforcement,” the center said in the report.

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, incorporated in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, has grown since its inception and presents challenges to the ranching families in the area, who say they are increasingly hemmed in by the federal preserve.

Beginning about one month ago, Ammon Bundy and others arrived in Burns and agitated locals, who wondered what they were up to. By Saturday, the plan became clear, and the Bundys, via their ranch’s Facebook page, called for “all freedom-loving people” to help occupy the wildlife refuge.

“The people are finally getting some good use out of a federal facility,” read a post by the Bundy Ranch on its Facebook page.

The wildlife preserve is in a remote region of south-central Oregon, and the protest overwhelmed the already limited Harney County Sheriff’s Office, which asked the public to stop calling on Saturday because residents were having trouble reaching emergency dispatchers.

“A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution,” Ward said in a statement Saturday night. “For the time being, please stay away from that area.”


©2016 Los Angeles Times

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  • If a sweeping, historical movement does take hold, no doubt our grandchildren’s history classes will take reverentially about the “Safeway parking lot speech”.

    • Really funny but if these militia people were blacks, Mexicans or Hawaiians at TMT, they would be shot. But being white, the white authorities will not shoot.

        • Looks like racists day at the SA. “People of Color” kill each other at a shocking rate. Also shocking is the crime rate among the same. Are there reasons for this? Yes. However, the story you cite actually doesn’t prove anything.

          Here are the facts:

          Despite making up just 13% of the population, blacks commit around half of homicides in the United States. DOJ statistics show that between 1980 and 2008, blacks committed 52% of homicides, compared to 45% of homicides committed by whites.
          More up to date FBI statistics tell a similar story. In 2013, black criminals carried out 38% of murders, compared to 31.1% for whites, again despite the fact that there are five times more white people in the U.S.

          From 2011 to 2013, 38.5 per cent of people arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault were black. This figure is three times higher than the 13% black population figure. When you account for the fact that black males aged 15-34, who account for around 3% of the population, are responsible for the vast majority of these crimes, the figures are even more staggering.

          Uncalled for police violence against anyone can’t be tolerated, but overlooking the real problem, the outrageous violent crime rate in some communities does nothing but pour gasoline on the racist fire.

      • In most of the big violent outbreaks on the mainland involving minorities, guns are not involved. Yes, rocks are thrown, stores broken into and looted, and vehicles flipped or set on fire, but rarely are firearms reported. The idiots taking over the refuge are armed with all manner of handguns and rifles, so is totally different scenario. They claim to be “…equipped with food and a generator.” How about water, toilet facilities (don’t want to mess up the environment, right?), garbage disposal, etc.? LOL Post the National Guard and police around their perimeter. As water and food runs out, the generator runs out of fuel, and body waste makes the area rancid, the idiots will start filtering out one or a few at a time, and the National Guard and Police can apprehend and arrest them on the spot.

      • Did you entirely miss the “occupy movement”, the occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol, the Ferguson riots and like events staged by the Black Lives Matter movement elsewhere, or the overboard tolerance given the TMT protestors?

        Were these morons shot down in the street? No.

        You are an ignorant racists.

        • Civil disobedience is treasured right of American citizens and a shining example of American “freedom” and used by likes of MLK and other oppressed groups, including women and gays to bring about change. It’s a whole lot different than “armed” white men promoting overthrow of their government. If you can’t see the difference, sorry for that. Please go back to cleaning the white cone cap and robe and the confederate flag in your house.

    • But, I think their perspective is that the “constitution” says they have a right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and that everything will be fine unless the government tries to stop them, in which case they will start shooting at government representatives with guns they have a “right” to have and wield. I believe that is a fair interpretation of what they are saying.

      The problem is that then, that should be good for EVERYONE, which will mean anarchy.

      I personally am nonplussed by the safeway speech. I accept the US and State governments for better or worse, and when I disagree, I have no problem trying to lobby my elected representatives and politically appointed officials, and speaking my mind with my vote. I know that if things get really bad, I have recourse with the courts, and would pursue that always in lieu of armed occupation of governmental offices. Why? I respect and believe in the constitution and the process it ACTUALLY affords Americans.

      On the other hand, if those guys end up being right, then, well, they’ll need to get off that land. Because, actually, it’s MINE!!. . . under the constitution.

    • Who’s fed up with the government? Sure our government can be overrun by partisan politics and special interests (which we all are part of) but can you name me one other government you would rather live under? 50% of Americans don’t vote and are thus excluding themselves from the governance of our nation and yet I’ll bet it’s these very same people (maybe you included?) that yells the loudest about being “fed up with the government”. Instead of spouting such nonsense, why don’t you and others like you participate in the democratic process to make it better?

        • Good point just spent a week in Winston Oregon, people here and in other small communties like this share common belief, no trust in the Federal government because government failed them. People in Portland have a different view as well, more pro government.

        • It’s divided and coming apart because of people like the “white terrorists” in Oregon who think they hold the birth rights to freedom and justice as only they see it. They’re trash and counter to every good ideals our country stand for.

  • We have allowed our government to be too big, too controlling and too dictorial for our own good. Time to trim the edges and tighten the reigns. Hopefully it is at the ballot box, if not this all could go sideways…….

      • Politically motivated IRS audits.

        Unbelievable environmental over reach and control.

        Punitive confiscation of private property under the asset seizure laws now in place.

        The Kelo court decision which allows government to take private land for public purposes (an open door for political corruption.

        Government controlled public school systems which lock kids into failed educational institutions.

        Economy-killing over regulation.

        The list goes on and on.

        • On a day-to-day basis, these are not my problems. Sure our govt could be better. But it could be worse. But I always see it as WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT! I AM THE GOVERNMENT!…Idiots in Oregon. They are the government.

        • So you’re voting Republicans out then?

          And IRS audits for non-profits must be politically motivated. If you have any understanding of the 501(c)(3) statue, you’d know this (but you don’t because you know nothing). Funny how you only criticize Democrats for actually following the law on new registrations of overtly political groups (which FYI, is illegal for such groups to register as such, therefore the IRS actually FAILED its job in approving many of them), but you say nothing when the IRS under Bush deliberately targeted existing groups that were marginally political rather than specifically political.

          Punitive confiscation of private property under the asset seizure laws now in place were favored by…guess which party?!

          Eminent Domain is key to the keystone pipeline and has been one of Trump’s FAVORITE things for government to do. Trump tried to get government to take retiree’s houses so he could build everything from casinos to hotels. Funny how you never say anything about that.

          I agree with you on the DOE. You are a product of its colossal failure. Seriously, anyone who thinks that “Pollution is a Democrat Myth” and is so incompetent he cannot research Turkey’s formal protest of our arming of the Kurds has been seriously failed by the DOE. Winston, you stand as the perfect example of how the DOE fails our students.

          Ah yes, the economic killing over regulation vague statement without any supporting evidence or even a thought to why such regulation exists. So you’re for a returning to just dumping toxic waste everywhere right? And no financial disclosures and honesty?

  • If you carefully read and understand your “Birth Certificate” you will understand The Government owns you; and if you read the paper Federal Reserve Note you use as “Money” you will understand that The Federal Reserve Banks own your “Money”; and if you read your “Mortgage” and “Homeowner’s Deed” you will also learn that The Federal Reserve and The U.S. Government already owns your “Home”. Thus, you are not “FREE”. YOU are, in fact, born an indentured servant of Government, The Banking Institutions, and are a SLAVE to TAXATION(S).

  • Overthrow the Government???? They chose a terrible place to do that….an empty, unused building in the middle of Nowhere, OR. Somebody better sell everyone involved here a clue.

    • They are in effect labeling these guys as terrorists. They are allowed to kill terrorists and detain them without taking them to court or allowing them to see a lawyer for as long as they want. I agree that this location is definitely out of the way and poses no threat to any government level. Better to just cordon off the area and let them starve to death in 6 – 12 months. Could also hit them with a drone strike. However, I do disagree with a 2d incarceration sentence just because someone else decided the original sentence wasn’t long enough.

      • You may have a possible solution. As you indicate isolation and prevent food and any necessities from ingress and egress will ferret them out like rats abandoning a sinking ship. Just don’t give them a platform as is occurring. Keep the media and public away. No messages in or out an wait them out.

  • Let’s see, AL qaeda and Isil feel they can arm themselves and take over government lands. Hmmmmmm. They all believe there way is the best way. Hmmmm. So we are condoning domestic terrorism? I bet those local people want their town back and schools open but terrorism is stopping them.

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