News / USA

    US Authorities Work to Resolve Standoff With Militiamen in Oregon

    Officials Work to Resolve Armed Standoff at Oregon Wildlife Refugei
    Jeff Custer
    January 04, 2016 7:10 PM
    U.S. authorities are working to resolve a standoff with a group of anti-government militiamen at a federal wildlife center in the northwestern state of Oregon. The group has occupied the wildlife center since Saturday, protesting a prison sentence imposed on two local ranchers. VOA's Jeff Custer reports from Washington.
    Ken Bredemeier

    U.S. authorities worked Monday to end a standoff at a federal wildlife center in the northwestern state of Oregon, where armed anti-government protesters took over the facility and declared they are prepared to stay for years.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama is aware of the situation and "hopeful it can be resolved peacefully and without violence."

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it is working with local and state law enforcement officials to try to resolve the situation.

    Demonstrators said they took over the remote facility at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in solidarity with two ranchers, Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son, Steven, 46, who are facing extended prison sentences for setting fires on federal land in the area they had used to graze their cattle.

    They originally were given shorter sentences, but a federal appeals court ruled in October that the first judge erred in ignoring the mandatory minimum sentence for the crime, and it said they should be given five-year terms.

    The two men turned themselves in Monday to resume their prison terms. Their attorneys said they would seek clemency from President Barack Obama to win their freedom again.

    The armed protesters, making up a loosely organized group, said they have as many as 100 people with them.  They are being led by Ammon Bundy, whose family was at the center of a 2014 standoff over grazing rights on federal lands.

    "We will be here as long as it takes," Bundy told reporters Sunday.  "We have no intentions of using force upon anyone. If force is used against us, we would defend ourselves."

    Ryan Bundy talks on the phone at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016.
    Ryan Bundy talks on the phone at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016.

    Bundy said their case is a symptom of a "huge, egregious problem," happening across the country with the government imposing too many restrictions on land use and causing economic harm to local populations.

    A sign in front of the occupied refuge building accuses the government of "doing what they do best, ABUSING POWER."

    'Light up the whole country'

    The Hammonds said they started the fires on their property to kill invasive species and then the flames spread to the federal land by accident.  But witnesses said they illegally killed deer, then distributed matches to others to be lit and dropped to "light up the whole country on fire."

    A Hammond family statement says the two men only want to turn themselves in and serve out their prison terms. The family says no "patriot group or individual has the right or authority to force an armed standoff...against their wishes."

    The anti-government militiamen who took over the wildlife refuge are angry that the court ruled to send the Hammonds back to prison, with credit for the time they already have served.

    After the peaceful protest in the nearby town of Burns, the group took over the offices at the refuge, which were closed at the time.  Photographs showed the militia members moving fuel and food onto the refuge.

    WATCH: Video footage from the scene

    Militiamen Ready for Prolonged Stay at Oregon Wildlife Refugei
    January 04, 2016 12:37 PM
    U.S. authorities worked Monday to resolve a standoff at a federal wildlife center in the northwestern state of Oregon where a group of anti-government militiamen have been since Saturday and declared they are prepared to stay for years.

    Federal ownership of western lands

    Bundy and his father Cliven held a month-long armed standoff with federal authorities in 2014 over unpaid fees the government said they owed for letting their cattle graze on federal land in Nevada.  Hundreds of supporters joined the Bundys and eventually the government backed down and decided to return the cattle it had confiscated to try to force payment.

    A members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, walks to one of it's buildings, near Burns, Oregon, Jan. 4, 2016.
    A members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, walks to one of it's buildings, near Burns, Oregon, Jan. 4, 2016.

    The federal government's land ownership has long been a contentious issue, particularly in the western part of the United States.  According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, federal agencies own 28 percent of the country's land, most of which is in the western states and Alaska.  

    At 53 percent, the state of Oregon has the fifth-highest percentage of federally owned land.

    The report cites early treaties and land settlement patterns for why so much of federal land is in the west.  The U.S. began with colonies on the east coast in the early 1600s through the country's independence from Britain in 1776.  It was not until the mid-1800s that the government acquired the land in the west.

    The Malheur refuge is one of 560 in the United States set aside by the federal government to protect wildlife species and their habitats.

    Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

    Armed Militia Vows to Occupy Oregon Federal Building Indefinitelyi
    January 05, 2016 5:35 AM
    An armed group occupying a federal wildlife center in the northwestern state of Oregon since Saturday says it plans to stay in the building indefinitely. Group leaders want the release of two ranchers sentenced to additional time in prison for setting fires on federal land. They also demand return of the land which it says the federal government grabbed from ranchers. Zlatica Hoke reports.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Schopenhauer from: Utah
    January 04, 2016 2:33 PM
    To refer to Bundy as a "leader" is a significant exaggeration. He's a law breaker and, like his old man, a freeloader. The locals have made it clear that they want him and his gang of punk thugs to leave their community. I doubt that he has much in the way of education, evident from his rants about what the Constitution means and how it allegedly applied to what he and his ditto-head losers are advocating.

    He should not be allowed to evade being prosecuted for illegal forced entry into and occupation of government property for starters. Following conviction, he should be sent to one of the old federal penitentiaries where the other inmates would quickly reorient him.

    by: James Dire from: West Hollywood CA USA
    January 04, 2016 12:33 PM
    If government land “belongs to every American” as the Bundyites claim, then ranchers who let their cattle graze on public land owe each and every one of us a fee if it’s really OUR land. Or we could have an intermediary collect the fee, say the U.S. government—oh wait, we already have that.

    The Bundys and their ilk are just the latest iteration of the typical whiny American who cries about his rights but really only wants to be given something for nothing.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 04, 2016 11:47 PM
    Hey James _ Why do you care if they graze their cattle on the wildlife sanctuary land if it's not being used for any other thing by Americans? .. If nobody is using the land, why can't they use it? .. Maybe the government could settle all those refugees on that land instead of American ranchers cattle? .. IF you aren't going to use that land, why would it bother you if somebody else used it? .. And will the Obama justice department treat these Oregon protesters like he ordered the "Black Lives Matter" organization protesters and rioters be treated, as being legal demonstrators?

    Even though Obama doesn't in any way identify himself with them, or even emphasizes himself with them, will he order his justice department to make sure the Oregon protesters rights aren't violated, and protect them from the police like his justice department did for the "Black Lives Matter" violent protesters and rioters? .. just curious?

    by: Lou from: Atlanta
    January 04, 2016 8:51 AM
    At the root of the problem is a revocation of free grazing rights on Federal land the ranchers say they have had since 1878. Local authorities are concerned the Feds may try to burn them out as they did in Waco, TX. using incendiary tear gas.

    by: Mark from: Virginia
    January 04, 2016 6:49 AM
    Well, so much for my New Year's Resolution....
    Hoping for a more peaceful 2016, and it is not starting off very well. Iran and Saudi Arabia are angry with each other, this standoff going on, more suicide bombings, IS beheadings, the list of angry actions are quite long, and we are only four days into the new year.

    If only people around the world, and in the United States in particular, could just take a moment and reflect on where we all came from, that we are all children of one particular God (by whatever name you wish to call Him), perhaps then we could show a little more kindness and tolerance toward each other. And then, perhaps then, some peace may prevail.

    Perhaps a new year's resolution for 2017.....

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