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Armed group in Oregon fears raid; critics decry goals

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    Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, holding rifle, speaks to reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday near Burns, Ore.

BURNS, Ore. >> The small, armed group occupying a remote national wildlife preserve in Oregon has said repeatedly that local people should control federal lands — a sentiment that frustrates critics who say the lands are already managed to help everyone from ranchers to recreationalists.

With the takeover entering its fourth day Wednesday, authorities had not removed the group of roughly 20 people from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon’s high desert country. But members of the group — some from as far away as Arizona and Michigan — were growing increasingly tense, saying they feared a federal raid.

Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum said Tuesday evening that he believes federal officials have issued warrants for the arrest of five group members — including himself and Ammon Bundy — but Finicum offered no details.

The FBI in Portland referred calls to the Harney County Joint Information Center, which said in a statement it had no information on arrests or arrest warrants and that authorities were “still working on a peaceful resolution.”

Bundy said they would take a defensive position anticipating a possible raid. Late Tuesday, the group moved a large plow vehicle to block the refuge’s driveway.

Bundy told reporters Tuesday the group would leave when there was a plan in place to turn over federal lands to locals — a common refrain in a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.

“It is our goal to get the logger back to logging, the rancher back to ranching,” said the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights.

The younger Bundy’s anti-government group is critical of federal land stewardship. But environmentalists and others say U.S. officials should keep control for the broadest possible benefit to business, recreation and the environment.

Randy Eardley, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said the group’s call for land ownership transfer didn’t make sense.

“It is frustrating when I hear the demand that we return the land to the people, because it is in the people’s hand — the people own it,” Eardley said. “Everybody in the United States owns that land. … We manage it the best we can for its owners, the people, and whether it’s for recreating, for grazing, for energy and mineral development.”

Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, said in a statement this week that occupation of the refuge “holds hostage public lands and public resources to serve the very narrow political agenda of the occupiers.”

The armed group seized the refuge’s headquarters Saturday night. Bundled in camouflage, earmuffs and cowboy hats, they seem to be centered around a complex of buildings on the 300-square-mile high desert preserve.

Finicum said the power was still on at buildings at the refuge. “If they cut it off, that would be such a crying shame. All the pipes would freeze,” he said.

Ammon Bundy offered few specifics about the group’s plan to get the land turned over to local control, but Finicum said they would examine the underlying land ownership transactions to begin to “unwind it.”

The federal government controls about half of all land in the West, which would make the wholesale transfer of ownership extremely difficult and expensive.

For example, it owns 53 percent of Oregon, 85 percent of Nevada and 66 percent of Utah, according to the Congressional Research Service. Taking over federal public lands in Idaho could cost the state $111 million a year, according to a University of Idaho study.

Bundy said the group felt it had the support of the local community. But the county sheriff has told the group to go home, and many locals don’t want them around, fearing they may bring trouble. A community meeting was scheduled for Wednesday. Harney County Sheriff David Ward said in a statement the meeting was to “talk about their security concerns and the disruptions that the behavior of the militants on the refuge are causing for our people.”

So far, law enforcement hasn’t taken action against the group, whose rallying cry is the imprisonment of father-and-son ranchers who set fire to federal land.

The group calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom said it wants an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land after Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, reported back to prison Monday.

The Hammonds, who have distanced themselves from the group, were convicted of arson three years ago and served no more than a year. A judge later ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.

The takeover comes amid a dispute that dates back decades in the West. In the 1970s, Nevada and other states pushed for local control in what was known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. Supporters wanted more land for cattle grazing, mining and timber harvesting.

Associated Press writer Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this story.

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  • They better be fearing a raid, because it’s gonna come and it won’t be pretty. These toy soldiers are playin’ with the big boys now — the government doesn’t fool around. Remember Waco and Ruby Ridge? Well, this is like those places, but without the women and children. Feds will feel no compunction, and these yahoos will git what they’ve been beggin’ fer.

    • Actually the Bundy family is a bunch of Welfare Kings. Funny how the GOP rallies to them. Same like they did to the Welfare Queen who refused to do her job yet collected $80K from taxpayers.

  • A ploy by demonstrators since the media has not given them any space. They are inviting the Feds to react. Wise for the Feds to stay put and wait them out. As long as there are no confrontations, the media will ignore them

    • agree…do not make martyrs of this group. They are libertarians testing what they can get away with. Sorry. I support the federal government. If the ranchers in question want to change laws do so legally through Congress.

      • Please, they are not libertarians. These are Yall’qaeda. Also they are welfare kings who have no problem with refusing to pay a million dollars in grazing fees.

        These people want free stuff and want others to pay for it.

        And Winston is defending them. Notice how little he actually believes in what he claims he believes.

  • They support criminals who set fire to federal lands — why should the government or the public entrust them with ANYTHING, yet alone more federal lands? These criminals should be in jail. If they weren’t white, they would be – or they’d be dead by now.

    • Have you actually looked into the story? The old rancher and his son are being sentenced to 5 years under a law related to terrorism—for burning out an invasive species on some useless grazing land and setting a back fire to save their home. A grand total of 127 acres were burned. The loss to the Federal government was zero. You people make it sound as though these people were setting fire to the US Capitol building.

      Here’s what’s really going on: The Federal government has long been attempting to force these ranchers to sell to expand a wildlife reserve. Now they’ll probably get their wish by forcing some old coot and his son into bankruptcy.

      The occupiers of the government facility are no more criminals than the black lives matter nuts or the Occupy Wall Street people who the media treated as heroes. Their method, being armed, is a mistake, but their point, that the Federal Government controls half the land in the West with a heavy hand, makes the point. Western lands, other than certain park land, have no business being under federal control.

      • Who exactly made those lands part of the United States? Oh, that’s right, the federal government. We the people own the land. And we the people should deal with these domestic terrorists as we would any other.

        • Terrorists? If you supported their cause, they would be demonstrators. And who exactly have they terrorized? A bunch of ducks at a wildlife refuge? The point that you don’t get is in the underlying story: Federal agencies have been hounding the local ranchers to force them to sell to the government. The 5 year prison sentence for burning some fairly useless property is an example of the powerful national government dropping the hammer on a powerless citizen.

          If you’re good with that, then best keep your head down. Eventually the all powerful, uncaring federal agency will get around to you.

      • Actually, if you read the court deposition, they were illegally poaching deer and then set the evidence on fire both destroying evidence of their poaching crime and destroying and damaging federal land.

        But we all know you get all your news from Breitbart and cannot be bothered to research anything.

        After all, you did state that “Pollution is a Democrat Myth,” that disarming mentally deranged is “irrational,” that we never armed the Kurds despite the Turks formally dragging our ambassador out for a yelling about that, and there are no ATCs in Iraq despite JTACs painting targets.

        You have DEMONSTRATED a deliberate gross ignorance time and time and time again.

        • agree with Choyd. Winston is an ideologue who puts out bad information. He is often irresponsible. I side with the American government as do most of the ranchers in that area.

        • “Deposition”; Choyd, the wikipedia savant, learns a new word. Congratulations.

          The story is far more complicated and involved than you’ve bothered to discover. There’s ample sworn testimony that contradicts your magic “deposition”.

          Don’t read breitbart.

          Your only argument is the fabricated straw man and when that fails, your fallback is to just lie about your opponents statements. Doesn’t get any weaker.

        • Actually Winston, you are parroting Breitbart. I occasionally read it just to see how dishonest they are and you are repeating their regurgitated vomit.

          And I have not lied about anything.

          Furthermore, there is a reason why the Hammonds served time.

          You did in fact state that Pollution is a Democrat Myth.
          You did in fact call my argument to disarm the mentally deranged “irrational”
          You did in fact say that we never armed the Kurds despite the Turks formally protesting our arming of the Kurds.
          You did in fact state that we didn’t have any ATCs in Iraq despite JTACs painting targets for coalition bombing.

          All I do is take what you STATE and use it against you. Your problem is that you cannot admit you are wrong on anything.

          Prove I lied. You cannot. You will not. And you will run away.

        • Allie, Winston is the most dishonest person on SA.

          We have direct quotes of him saying insane **** and he says we lie about it. He even admits he said things when he tries to refute us, and then backtracks and said he never said that. His dishonesty is so massive that we cannot measure it.

      • These criminals are not mere “protesters” — if they were any other race and chose to “protest” by seizing a federal building while brandishing guns, they would be arrested or dead by now. And their hero (and apparently yours) deliberately burned federal lands to cover up evidence of their crimes, and endangered actual humans too (since you apparently don’t care about destruction of property or natural habitat) — one witness barely escaped the 10-foot high flames caused by the arson. They deserved their prison sentences, and so do these other terrorists.

        • Did you miss the looting of Ferguson Mo and Baltimore? The direct mob violence against police? The arson of multiple properties? And what is the news about how these
          “protestors” were punished? There is none. Nothing happened to these people, probably in deference to their “race”.

          Burned federal land to cover a crime: Your evidence? They were not found guilty of poaching. There is testimony contradicting that claim. And what danger was there to actual humans? No evidence of that either.

          Destruction of “property and habitat? Said like a true urbanite. You equate scrub ranch land to a red wood forest. Most likely it’s arid and virtually worthless.

        • No evidence of danger to humans? It’s still a crime even if no humans were endangered, but in this case, humans WERE endangered according to witness testimony (that the witnesses barely escaped the 10-foot high flames). So your post is just flat-out wrong. As for comparing these terrorists to other protesters – -you conveniently ignore the fact that these terrorists in Oregon are ARMED. Show me a protester in Ferguson or Baltimore who was brandishing guns on federal property and yet not arrested.

    • Let them starve. Have the locals refuse to sell them food. These Winston/Ronin minded fools did not plan (as neither Winston/Ronin can do). Starve them out.

        • How is that fascist? Stop unilaterally redefining words to suit your agenda.

          These idiots failed to plan just as you and Ronin do all of the time. And the Bend population doesn’t want them there. They can refuse service all they want. And they should. Thus, because your inbred cousins can’t plan, we should starve them out to teach them a lesson.

  • These rodeo clowns are brilliant! They blocked the driveway with a truck, thinking that they’ve closed off access to a 187,000 acre reserve, as if, when they see the truck, the Feds will just stand around scratching their heads and wondering what to do next. Ammon Bundy didn’t hate the government too much when he got a $530,000 loan from the government.

    • Or a million dollars in grazing rights he refuses to pay for that every other rancher paid for.

      Welfare Kings and Welfare Queens are acceptable if the GOP can use them to drive the base out and if they vote Republican.

      Notice how Winston REFUSES to criticize the Bundies for being Welfare Kings.

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