There’s something happening in Oregon, and the media and the American people are struggling to understand what the “militia” is doing. This sample essay explores the armed takeover in Oregon.
Background on the Oregon armed takeover
According to the New York Times, the Oregon standoff began on Saturday, January 2nd, with a small, armed anti-U.S. government group of men and women which broke into a:
“small building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. The group told reporters that it was protesting “tyrannical federal management of rural public land” (Stack).
The takeover of the building followed a previous protest in Burns, Oregon, to support two local ranchers who were accused and sentenced in an arson case – but the men in Oregon have since indicated their greater goal of protesting what they see as the tyranny of government (Stack). The building that has been taken over is the cottage in which the refuge offices are located, normally operated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Stack).
The two ranchers sentenced for arson are one Steven Hammond and Dwight Hammond, who reported to a California federal prison to serve out their time on Monday, January 4th (Stack). The families of the ranchers indicated through a lawyer that the Oregon militiamen and women did not “speak for them” (Stack). On Monday, January 4th, Ammon Bundy announced at a press conference that the group wanted to be called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom (as cited in Fantz). Ryan Bundy, Ammon Bundy’s brother, is also at the refuge (Fantz).
The ranchers in question
Dwight Hammond and his son Steven admitted that they had lit numerous fires from 2001 to 2006 in order to protect their property from “wildfires and invasive plants” (Stack). The Hammonds reportedly started a 140 acres burn of public land which devastated production for two seasons; two years prior Steven Hammond started a burn which extended into U.S. Bureau of Land Management property, as well (Stack).
In 2006, Steven started a fire that accidentally burned an acre of public land while attempting to “back burn” and stop flames from a nearby lightning strike from harming his winter feed crops – there was a burn ban in effect at that time (Stack). Both father and son were convicted of arson in 2013 and served time in prison then; their fines were around $400,000 paid to the federal government (Stack).
Under a 1996 law which punishes domestic terrorists and carries a minimum sentence of five years, they were asked to report back to prison to serve out the full time required when a judge discovered he had overlooked the domestic terrorist law (Stack). Fantz reported that the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement on January 4th detailing the Hammonds’ offenses and conviction in the 2001 Hardie-Hammond fire in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. The statement included the following:
“Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer” on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property (as cited in Fantz). Also noted in the U.S. Justice Department statement was “jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to ‘light up the whole country on fire’” (as cited in Fantz).
The Militia of Oregon occupation
Ammon Bundy is the self-proclaimed leader of the militia in the Oregon Malheur Refuge, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy who initiated a 2014 standoff with federal agents attempting to confiscate his cattle (Stack). Cliven Bundy had been illegally grazing the cattle on federal land for ten years at the time and garnered prominent conservative support until he suggested that African-Americans were “better off as slaves” (as cited in Stack).
The first standoff ended when the government decided to leave Cliven Bundy’s group alone, and the group declared themselves “victorious” (Fantz). Cliven Bundy is not in the refuge, according to Stack. Ammon Bundy and his group claimed that there are one hundred people occupying the refuge with them, but sightings indicated only one dozen.
In an initial interview with The Oregonian the day the occupation started, Ammon Bundy indicated that there might be a violent response to law enforcement if it tried to remove them from the refuge; he retracted that statement later the same day, stating:
“We pose no threat to anybody”. No list of demands has been issued, despite the “anti-government rhetoric” the group has been using in statements to the press; they have called for supporters to join them, however (Stack).
Oregon State Police have accused the group of attempting a county and federal government overthrow which they hope will result in a nationwide movement (as cited in Stack).
Responses to the Oregon armed takeover
The County of Harney, Militia Supporters & Burns Townspeople. The county of Harney in Oregon is mainly home to sheep and cattle ranchers as well as timber industry workers; many of them are sympathetic to the federal land management complaints which Ammon Bundy and the men with him have voiced (Stack). Some have criticized the group openly, calling them “troublemakers” that are not considered a part of the Harney community (Stack).
Dan Nichols is a county commissioner and neighbor to the Hammonds, and stated that Harney County is not supporting the armed militia group; the family has distanced itself from Ammon Bundy (Stack). Among the three men who have joined the group from the local area are Jon Ritzheimer, an anti-Islamist, and former Marine; he served in Iraq (Fantz).
Ritzheimer is known for his 2014 protest outside an Islamic community center in Phoenix, during which he wore a t-shirt which read “F—- Islam” and compared himself to the signers of the Declaration of Independence in an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN (as cited in Fantz). Ritzheimer has posted a video of himself at the refuge and noted that entrance and exit are not restricted (Fantz).
Other armed militia members
LaVoy Finicum is another joiner who wants to defend his constitutional rights (as cited in Fantz). Finicum no longer wants to pay federal grazing fees and considers them “extortion” (as cited in Fantz). Ryan Payne is a military veteran from Montana who defended Cliven Bundy in 2014 and noted that he put “snipers in position when the standoff came to a head” (as cited in Fantz).
Some of the ranchers in the Burns area have demonstrated solidarity by bringing the militia food, including warm soup (Sidner). However, at a community meeting, the Harney County sheriff called, hundreds of residents raised their hands in support of the militia leaving peacefully in order to bring the protest to an end (Sidner).
There is also the general agreement with the peaceful manner in which law enforcement officers have dealt with the militia, which is still occupying the refuge. Many people across the nation, however, including people of color, disagree with law enforcement’s policy of leaving the militia alone, expressing beliefs that if the militia were not made up of white people, the protest would have ended long ago by law enforcement intervention (Sidner).
The Southern Poverty Law Center and Oregon Indians
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is an organization dedicated to removing racism and combating hate, intolerance, and discrimination through education and litigation (Southern Poverty Law Center). The SPLC has been tracking the Hammonds since Cliven Bundy’s anti-black statement in 2014. Heidi Beirich is a lead researcher with the group and stated:
“At the heart of this is a complaint that the federal government owns so much land, and that feeling is typical in a lot of Western states. But that land doesn’t belong to them [the militia]. It belongs to all of us and the government is working to preserve it” (as cited in Fantz).
This belief has recently been echoed by another organization which is very relevant in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge area: the Burns Paiute American Indian tribe. Burns Paiute American Indian Tribe. According to Sara Sidner of CNN, the leaders of the tribe have sent a message to the militia illegally occupying the refuge offices, and it is a clear message:
“Go home. We don’t want you here.”
The refuge was originally the Paiute tribe’s land and was fought over by the ancestors of the tribe’s members in the distant past (Sidner). The Native American tribe is still trying to gain full use of the land but has consented to work with the BLM in order to “save its archaeological sites” (Sidner). Tribal Council Chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique noted that the tribe’s relationship with the refuge is a positive one in which cultural rights are protected (as cited in Sidner).
Ammon Bundy has stated that the militia is only exercising its constitutional rights by refusing to leave the lands until they are given to “their rightful owners” (as cited in Sidner). Bundy noted that over 100 ranchers and farmers used to work the land until it was taken from them illegally by the federal government; it is not clear from the article whether this is a true statement (Sidner).
Duara, Nigel, and Hennessy-Fiske, Molly. “Oregon Refuge Occupation: ‘It’s Getting Dark, and it is Freezing.’” The Los Angeles Times. The Tribune Company, 2016. 8 January 2016.
Glionna, John M. “Oregon Sheriff Has Received Numerous Death Threats Since Militia Takeover.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 2016. Web. 8 January 2016.
Kaste, Martin. “Why There’s No Sign of Law Enforcement at Site of Oregon Takeover.” NPR. NPR, 2016. Web. 8 January 2016.
Rein, Lisa. “The Government Closed its Offices in Oregon Days Before the Armed Takeover Due to Fears of Violence.” The Washington Post. Nash Holdings, LLC., 2016. Web. 8 January 2016.
Sidner, Sara. “Native Tribe Blasts Oregon Takeover.” CNN. Cable News Network,
Stack, Liam. “What We Know About the Standoff in Oregon.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 2016. Web. 8 January 2016.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (2016). “What We Do.” The Southern Poverty Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016. Web. 8 January 2016.