An armed militia group has taken control of the headquarters building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon and intends to stay there for a year, the Oregonian newspaper of Portland reported Saturday. The takeover followed a peaceful protest Saturday in which hundreds of demonstrators gathered in support of two local ranchers who are due to begin a prison sentence Monday.
No one was hurt in the takeover, according to initial reports, and the wildlife refuge center was unoccupied at the time. Militia leaders included Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher and anti-government activist, as well as two of Ammon Bundy's brothers. The exact number of militia members inside the building wasn't immediately clear, though media reports have estimated that at least 150 protesters are inside in support of Steve Hammond and Dwight Hammond Jr.
“The facility has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds,” Ammon Bundy told the Oregonian, adding that he would not rule out violence. “We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we've made at the last minute.”
Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, were sentenced to five years in prison in October for illegally setting fires on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property near Diamond, Oregon. Both men already served time for the offense, which involved setting fires that spread to government lands they leased to graze cattle, but another judge ruled that both must go back to prison because their initial sentence was too short.
“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond family,” the Hammonds' lawyer, W. Alan Schroeder, wrote to Harney County Sheriff David Ward, as quoted by U.S. News and World Report.
Residents in the nearby town of Burns have spent days meeting with out-of-state militia leaders, who have also come from Idaho, Montana and elsewhere, in an attempt to prevent the scene from ending in violence.
“We are not coming into your town to shoot it up,” Brandon Curtiss, the self-proclaimed leader of an Idaho militia group, told nervous residents, as quoted by the Oregonian. “We won't fire anything unless we're fired upon.”