Tue, Jan 05, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Farmers, survivalists occupy US reserve

ANTIGOVERNMENT:The sheriff of Oregon’s Harney County said the militiamen’s actions were really an ‘attempt to overthrow the county and federal government’

AFP, BURNS, Oregon

Scores of antigovernment militiamen occupied a wildlife reserve in Oregon for a second night on Sunday, warning that their protest against the jailing of two ranchers could last months.

The group — thought to number up to 100 — on Saturday began occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon after a rally in support of ranchers Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, who were jailed over fires on federal land in the area.

The local sheriff’s department on Sunday said in a statement that the building’s seizure was an effort by the group to instigate a confrontation with authorities.

“These men came to Harney 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,” Harney County Sheriff David Ward said in the statement.

He added that efforts were under way to resolve the standoff “as quickly and peaceful as possible.”

However, there was on Sunday night no visible police presence at the reserve, where several militiamen in vehicles guarded the entrance, while others kept watch from a lookout tower.

There have also been no reports so far of any confrontation around the facility, which was closed when the militia moved in.

The Oregonian news Web site reported that the FBI was handling the case.

The protesters holed up inside the refuge — a loose-knit grouping of antigovernment farmers, ranchers and survivalists — said they planned no violence, but would not rule out armed resistance if authorities stormed the site.

School was canceled in the area for the week and the county courthouse said it would be closed yesterday “for security reasons.”

One of the protest leaders is Ammon Bundy, the 40-year-old son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was at the center of an armed antigovernment standoff with authorities in 2014 over grazing rights on public lands. The younger Bundy, who spoke by telephone with CNN on Sunday, called on the government to restore the “people’s constitutional rights.”

His brother Ryan and others in the group have demanded that the Hammonds, who have been ordered to report to a federal prison yesterday, be spared jail and that the government relinquish control of the Malheur reserve.

It was unclear how many of the protestors, if any, were armed.

“We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, [but] if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves,” Ammon Bundy said.

The Hammonds were convicted of arson after lighting what they said was a controlled fire on their ranch in Harney County that spread to government land.

However, witnesses at their trial said that Steven Hammond had illegally slaughtered deer on federal property during a hunting expedition and then handed out matches in order to “light up the whole country on fire,” according to a US Department of Justice statement. The fire consumed 139 acres of public land.

The pair were freed after the father had served three months in prison and his son had served a year, according to local media.

When a judge, in an appeal, ruled in October last year that a five-year sentence was justified and ordered them back to prison to serve the balance, militia groups responded angrily.

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