A tense standoff at an Oregon wildlife center is touching on a relatively niche issue in conservative politics.
On Saturday, an armed, anti-government group protesting the jail sentences of two men who set fire to federal land took control of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southern Oregon.
The occupiers were apparently led by Ammon Bundy, whose father, Cliven Bundy, made national headlines for a tense standoff with law enforcement in a similar dispute in 2014.
The younger Bundy said the takeover is necessary in order to return federal land to the public.
“We’re planning on staying here for several years. And while we’re here what we’re going to be doing is freeing these lands up and getting the ranchers back to ranching, getting the miners back to mining,” Ammon Bundy said in a Facebook video.
The Bundy family’s armed standoffs with law enforcement is the result of a decades-long struggle with federal-government agencies over the ownership of federal land in rural farming and ranching regions.
The issue has captured quite a bit of attention from presidential contenders, especially during Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the federal government in Nevada last year.
High-profile Republicans distanced themselves from Bundy after he casually suggested that African-Americans may have been “better off” as slaves.
But prior to his comments, many hat-tipped the rancher for his decision to stand up to the federal government’s longstanding request that Bundy not craze his cattle on government land. When Bundy did not comply, the government began rounding up his cattle, contending he owed more than $1.2 million in fees.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is perhaps the most notable presidential candidate to throw his support behind Bundy. He reportedly met with the rancher earlier this year to discuss his dispute with federal and state land management.
In June, Paul fielded a question on the topic from Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother and Cliven’s son.
“There’s no place in the US Constitution that allows the federal government to own land. Period. What are you going to do to correct that problem?” Bundy asked.
“I’d either sell or turn over all land management to the states,” Paul responded, as the audience applauded.
“We run into problems now with the federal government being this bully, this big huge government bully. You’d have less trouble with that if you had local control of the land. State ownership would be better, but even better would be private ownership,” Paul added.
Here’s the clip:
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also voiced his support for Bundy’s stand. In a National Review op-ed, he wrote that the Bundys were “honorable Americans” for standing up to the Bureau of Land Management.
In December, Carson also said he was in favour of turning over federal land to states.
“What do they need with all that land?” Carson said in December, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. “I would advocate returning land to the states. It’s not like they’re irresponsible people who don’t care what happens, you know. I just don’t see any benefit from the government owning this much land.”
Finally, real-estate mogul Donald Trump has also expressed some support for Cliven Bundy. He said in 2014 that he admired Bundy, saying the rancher should use the opportunity to cut a deal with the federal government.
“It’s over the top. It’s very strong. I like him,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “He’s in a great position, I think, to cut a great deal, and that’s what he should do.”
Paul’s and Carson’s campaigns did not immediately return Business Insider’s requests for comment on the situation in Oregon.
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