An employee of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — which was taken over by an armed occupation earlier this month — is speaking out.
The employee is terrified of returning after the siege.
“I’m afraid to go back at this point,” an unnamed refuge employee told Oregon Public Radio. “I would say that this is the most disrupted my life has ever been.”
The publication agreed to withhold the name of the employee, a US Fish and Wildlife Service worker, because of threats the armed occupiers have made against federal workers.
“Knowing that they’re combing through all of our files, everything that we have that’s government and personal at the refuge, that they have access to our computers, that they know everything from my Social Security number to my shoe size,” the employee said. “It’s a great sense of violation.”
Employees who haven’t been able to go to work in the more than three weeks that the occupation has been ongoing are still being paid. In addition, some have been able to work from home while others have found temporary work elsewhere.
“When everything that you hold dear, from your personal life to what you’ve achieved in your professional life, has all been seemingly taken away from you by people who have no comprehension of who you are or even the place where you live — it’s a difficult thing to process,” the employee said.
Ammon Bundy, the armed group’s de-facto leader, had a minutes-long meeting with FBI agents Friday that didn’t appear to make any progress toward ending the armed occupation of the wildlife refuge, the Seattle Times reported. Bundy’s father, Cliven, staged an armed standoff with federal officials in Nevada in 2014.
The armed occupation of the refuge entered its 24th day Monday. Earlier this month, about two dozen armed protesters broke into the refuge’s unoccupied building and refused to leave. It followed a march in protest of new prison sentences for two ranchers who were convicted and previously served time for setting fire to federal grazing land.
Those two ranchers — Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46 — reported to prison last Monday, Reuters reported. A judge ruled in October that their prior terms for the arson — three months for the father and one year for the son — were too short under federal law. They will now serve about four more years each.
The Hammonds said they set fires in 2001 and 2006 to stop invasive plants from spreading on their ranch, which is adjacent to the refuge near Burns, Oregon, according to The Associated Press. Prosecutors said the Hammonds set the fire to cover up poaching in the area.
The group of anti-government protesters — which is calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom — believes the Hammonds have been treated unfairly and exposed to double jeopardy for having to serve multiple sentences. They’re demanding that federal lands be turned over to local authorities and that the Hammonds be freed.
Local authorities have made no attempt to reclaim the refuge. The local sheriff pleaded with the occupiers to “go home,” and other residents haven’t seemed pleased with their takeover, either. The Hammonds have tried to distance themselves from the militia, saying through their attorney that the group didn’t speak for them.
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