Radicals Seize National Wildlife Refuge

Militias take over Oregon headquarters in protest of arsonists’ prison terms.

Anti-government sentiment came to a head in Oregon on Saturday when a group of armed militiamen seized the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the southeast portion of the state. The takeover, led by Ammon Bundy, was in protest of the sentencing of two ranchers who pled guilty to arson on public lands.

The Oregon father and son, Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, admitted setting fire to grazing parcels they leased from the federal government, though they said it was to fight invasive species and wildfires, not to commit arson. The feds disagreed, won guilty pleas, and the two served time in prison, Dwight three months, Steven a year. A federal judge ruled that the sentences weren’t long enough and ordered them to report to prison today.

“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams. “Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze.”

Their case became a rallying point for anti-federalist militias, who gathered in Burns, Oregon, about 30 miles north of the refuge, in protest. The peaceful protest soon turned into an armed takeover; the Oregonian reported that the seizure had been planned for some time.

Indeed, representatives of the convicted ranchers said the militia efforts were unwanted and unconnected. “Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond family,” W. Alan Schroeder, lawyer for the Hammonds, wrote to the Harney County sheriff.

The name Bundy might ring a bell. Last year, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy stood down the Bureau of Land Management over $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees, and Ammon is his son. Other men involved with the Malheur takeover include Ryan Bundy, another Cliven son; Ryan Payne, a Montana veteran involved in the 2014 Bundy confrontation; Blaine Cooper, an Arizona militiaman also at the Bundy ranch; and Jon Ritzheimer, who garnered headlines last year for his anti-Muslim speech.

Ammon Bundy said his group will hold the refuge “as long as we need to be,” he said.

“The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control. What we’re doing is not rebellious. What we’re doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.”

Photo by Cacophony/Wikimedia Commons

Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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Showing 5 comments
  • BCB

    Its fairly common for people in the Midwest to burn off prairie portions in a controlled fashion to prevent wildfire and kill of unwanted weeds. Don’t see why that’s so hard to believe.

  • Andrew

    Of course, burning land you don’t own is criminal, regardless of where you are.

  • Free Loader

    It’s way past time for grazing to disappear on public lands, and the “militias” aren’t well-regulated and have no right to be taking the law into their hands, but I do think the ranchers should not have been sent back to prison. When the federal government makes a mistake in a criminal matter, in particular one that does not pose an immediate threat to public safety, it ought to leave things alone. similar to the “double jeopardy” clause in the Constitution.

  • Catherine

    Here’s the DOJ press release regarding the Hammond case. Evidently, the trial court disregarded minimum sentencing laws, which led to the resentencing. There is also a short description of the arson evidence.


  • Mike

    Those militia idiots are using the rhetoric of local control over public lands as a cover for their fanatical disdain of the federal government. Most of the locals don’t even want them there. I usually root for the underdog but I really hope the Bundy clan and their followers face some (peaceful) consequences this time.

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