An armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge began on January 2 over tensions stemming from federal management of Western lands.
The group, calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, is led by Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy. They refuse to leave the refuge until there is “a plan to transfer control of federal land to locals,” according to ABC News.
“We have been very active in forwarding our plan and assisting the people of Harney County in claiming and using their rights,” says Bundy.
The group of ranchers wants control of federal lands in Harney County, as the government controls 53% of all of the land in the state of Oregon.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls grazing permits on around 2.9 million acres of federal land in Harney County.
While the group is armed, they turned away security support from the Pacific Patriot Network on Saturday, January 9, over the group’s carrying of assault rifles.
The protest is far from popular in the eyes of the public, and are criticized for their lack of planning and for the use of occupation as a means of protest on social media with the use of the hashtags: #YallQueda, #YeeHawdists, and #VanillaISIS.
While their occupation has not gained much public support, it has gained national attention. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz addressed the issue saying, “Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds, but we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence against others. So it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”
Maryland congresswoman Donna Edwards seems to think that the media is portraying the protests with racial bias, “I am deeply troubled by the media portrayal of the events in Oregon and the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge,” said Edwards. Introduction to quote “Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, activists [ . . . ] have been referred to variously as ‘thugs,’ ‘criminals,’ and ‘drug users,’” while the ranchers “have been referred to as an ‘armed militia,’ or simply ‘occupiers,’ as though that behavior is acceptable in a nation of laws.”
Tension over harsh prison sentences given to an older rancher and his son for “arson” on their land in 2001 and 2006 seem to also be a part of the protests. Dwight and Steven Hammond lit two fires on their lands to destroy invasive plant species and to create wildfire barriers. These fires burned 139 acres and 1 acre of federal grassland respectively in addition to the Hammond’s own land. The two were sentenced with felony charges “under a federal law aimed at arsonists and bombers who destroy federal buildings,” according to the Orange County Register.
The authorities, including the FBI which has jurisdiction in this case, seem determined to wait them out from their base at a local airport. However, the protesters seem to be settling in for the long haul after Bundy’s mother released a request for supplies to be donated to them.
By: Katie Maxwell