Militia Group: We'll Hold Ore. Refuge 'as Long as It Takes'

Sheriff says they plotted to overthrow government
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 4, 2016 4:05 AM CST
Updated Jan 4, 2016 6:38 AM CST
Group Vows to Hold Oregon Refuge Indefinitely
Buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are seen near Burns, Ore., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016.    (AP Photo/Rebecca Boone)

The protesters who seized control of an unoccupied building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon over the weekend are armed, angry, and apparently hunkering down for a long stay. "We will be here for as long as it takes," Army veteran Ryan Payne tells the New York Times. He says the goal of protesters—who traveled to Oregon to support father-and-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, facing prison time for burning federal land—is to return federal land to the people and there has already been talk of renaming the Malheur Wildlife Refuge the "Harney County Liberty Center." Local authorities have asked people to steer clear of the area for now. In other developments:

  • The militiamen say they are trying to "restore" people's rights, though Harney County Sheriff David Ward describes them as treasonous. They came to the 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," he said in a statement.

  • It's not clear how many protesters are actually at the site in eastern Oregon, and the number could be anywhere from 15 to 150, reports the Oregonian, which describes the occupier as "militants." There were no workers on site when the protesters arrived, and law enforcement officials haven't restricted access to the site or blocked roads in the area.
  • Protest leader Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, said on Sunday that the occupiers have a plan in place that will take several months to accomplish—and that the refuge has been a "tool of tyranny" since it was established in 1908, reports Oregon Public Broadcasting. Bundy said the occupiers are there to "defend the people" and they don't plan to use force, but they will if they have to.
  • Bundy has called for militia members from across the country to join the protest in Oregon, His brother Ryan tells the AP that they want the land to be free from federal oversight, so people can use it for logging, ranching, and mining as they see fit.
  • Susan Hammond, meanwhile, whose husband and son are due to report to prison Monday morning, tells OPB that she's unsure of the protesters' motives. "I don't even know what 'occupying the refuge' means. I can't judge what’s going on out there because I don’t know what it is," she said. "I hope they’ve got some warm clothes." CNN reports that the Hammonds' lawyer has made it clear that the Bundys and their followers do not speak for them.
(More Oregon stories.)

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