MALHEUR NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, OREGON – A group of armed militia members, including three sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, have taken over the headquarters of the refuge in response to the resentencing and incarceration of two ranchers who were convicted of arson four years ago, and have threatened to kill any law enforcement authorities who try to remove them. The occupation has been particularly punctuated by many voicing outrage online about the lackluster media coverage given the still-ongoing situation, unlike the coverage of similarly volatile events concerning the Black Lives Matter movement or terrorism involving Muslim extremists.
According to Oregon Live, the occupation came just after a protest in Burns, Oregon Saturday by approximately 300 militia and local residents paraded against the prosecution of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who are to report to prison on Monday. The Hammonds were convicted of arson stemming from them setting a series of fires on lands in 2001 and 2006 managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation. Because they argued during sentencing that the five-year mandatory minimum terms were unconstitutional and the trial court agreed, Dwight Hammond served three months, while his son Steven served one year. In October, a federal judge in Oregon ruled their terms were too short under U.S. law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.
“After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in a statement. “A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. or the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.”
The building was closed for the holiday weekend and no employees were inside.
The occupation is reportedly being led by Ammon Bundy, who’s father Cliven led a similar standoff with militia members at their Nevada ranch when federal agents attempted to arrest him for failure to pay back taxes. That event became a rallying point for many on the right until racist statements prompted a drop in support for Bundy, he remains free today as do those who went to the rally to fight the agents despite several laws being broken. Bundy is joined by two of his brothers, and an unknown number of militia members. “If we do not make a hard stand, we will be in a position where we won’t be able to as a people,” he said, according to ABC News.
Oregonian reporter Ian Kullgren tweeted that one of the other brothers, Ryan Bundy said to him on the phone that while they do not want bloodshed, “He said they’re willing to kill and be killed if necessary.”
I talked to Ryan Bundy on the phone again. He said they’re willing to kill and be killed if necessary. #OregonUnderAttack
— Ian Kullgren (@IanKullgren) January 3, 2016
Anti-Muslim militia member Jon Ritzheimer, who is best known for staging armed anti-Muslim protests outside mosques in Arizona, posted a video on New Year’s Eve stating he was also in Oregon expecting to fight against what he called tyranny. In the video, he says what seems to be a goodbye to his family and addresses Dwight Hammond who he thinks will not survive the five years in prison “It’s real simple, Dwight,” he says. “Do you want to die in prison labeled a terrorist by these oppressors or do you want to die out here with us as a free man? I want to die a free man.”
But the Hammond Family is not supportive of the occupation. “Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family,” the Hammonds’ lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward.
There has been a lot of criticism online over the coverage of the occupation, ranging from how little is being mentioned on television and other mainstream media outlets about it, to the characterizations of the militia members differing greatly from when those same outlets covered recent events in Paris and Baltimore where Muslims and African Americans were the focus of the story. Comedian John Fugelsang expressed his frustration via a tweet suggesting that the lack of Muslim involvement is the reason why the coverage is so minuscule.
Can we please get 1 Muslim to join the right-wing terrorist militia in Oregon so our media can cover it?
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) January 3, 2016
Some people ridiculed the perceived attempt to avoid calling the militia members “terrorists”.
Don’t worry Even as we speak the media is sending their best thesauruses to Oregon to find other words than “terrorists.” #OregonUnderAttack
— Steve Marmel (@Marmel) January 3, 2016
Others noted the difference between the militia members and those that have participated in the Black Lives Matter efforts.
Oregon militants – Protest to defend arsonists Black Lives Matter – Protest to defend the survival of black America #OregonUnderAttack
— CJ Pearson (@thecjpearson) January 3, 2016
Did I miss the call for the national guard in Oregon? I recall them in Ferguson and Baltimore. #OregonUnderAttack
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) January 3, 2016
CBS News and Al Jazerra reported on the complaints on the reporting, and when CNN’s Brian Stelser while covering the story spoke to retired US Marshall and conservative commentator Art Roderick about the particular disparity, he tried to justify it. “This is a very rural area,” Roderick said. “It is out in the middle of nowhere. What are they actually doing? They’re not destroying property, they’re not looting anything.” Roderick is best known as the Marshall who shot and killed the family dog of the Weaver Family during the standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992.
According to Reuters, the militia members are demanding that the federal government give up control of the Malheur National Forest.