VIDEO: Why Is an Armed Militia Occupying a Wildlife Refuge in Oregon?
Following in the footsteps of his father, who made headlines in 2014 by leading an armed standoff between ranchers and the federal government over grazing rights in Nevada, Ammon Bundy and his fellow protesters are demanding that the government surrender public control of an Oregon habitat preserve to private ranchers and loggers in Harney County.
In an interview with CNN, above, Bundy claims that the designation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a federally protected wildlife sanctuary has abridged the right of local people to use the land to secure their livelihood. He does not appear concerned with the ecological destruction that would inevitably follow if the park were opened to private use.
The Oregonian provides background for the developing story:
Militiamen from several states came to [the town of] Burns to protest the impending imprisonment of two Harney County ranchers. They participated in several community meetings and organized a rally and protest march that occurred without controversy on Saturday. The march lasted about an hour and involved about 300 people — a mix of militia and local residents. At the county sheriff’s office, marchers threw pennies — meant to symbolize citizens buying back their government.
The occupation: Some time after the rally, key militia leaders broke off and drove across the high desert basin south of Burns to the wildlife refuge. They said they took over the refuge headquarters, which was unoccupied for the holiday weekend. They also have blocked the access road. Indications are that this has been planned for some time. Accounts of how many militia are at the refuge range from their own claims of up to 150 to accounts from reporters at the scene that there may be no more than 15.
The refuge: Established in 1908, the refuge is one of the premier migratory bird habitats in the U.S., featuring Malheur Lake. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge headquarters includes the main office, a museum, and homes. No workers were on duty when the occupiers arrived.
Who’s involved: Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is acting as the leader, conducting a steady stream of media interviews. Other key militia leaders have joined him, including Ryan Payne, an Army veteran from Montana involved in last year’s armed standoff in Nevada with federal agents; Blaine Cooper, an Arizona militiaman who also participated in the Nevada standoff, and Jon Ritzheimer, who made headlines last year for anti-Muslim rhetoric. Days before the refuge takeover, Ritzheimer posted what struck some as a farewell video to his family.
What they want: Ammon Bundy has said in several interviews that the occupiers want federal land returned to Harney County ranchers and loggers. They say the federal government has oppressed local people with its ownership and control of land. Payne and others have insisted that under the Constitution, the federal government has no legal right to Harney County land.
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