A local sheriff said it’s time for the armed protesters occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon to leave.
“You said you were here to help the citizens of Harney County. That help ended when a peaceful protest became and armed and unlawful protest,” Harney County Sheriff David Ward said in a Monday press conference. “Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully.”
The armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon is now entering its fourth day after about two dozen armed protesters broke into the refuge’s unoccupied building and refused to leave following a march in protest of new prison sentences for two ranchers who were previously convicted and served time for setting fire to federal grazing land.
Those two ranchers, Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, reported to prison Monday, Reuters reports. 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 the Hammonds be freed.
Local authorities have not yet attempted to reclaim the refuge.
“This refuge — it has been destructive to the people of the county and to the people of the area,” Ammon Bundy, the 40-year-old son of another well-known anti-government protester and one of the group’s leaders, told CNN. “People need to be aware that we’ve become a system where government is actually claiming and using and defending people’s rights, and they are doing that against the people.”
Ladonna Baron, a local store owner, told USA Today she supports the Hammonds, but that the armed occupiers are acting on their own agenda. She said they should “go away.”
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