About two dozen armed militiamen have occupied a federal wildlife refuge site in Oregon for the past seven days with no signs of leaving. Here’s what you need to know about this situation as it continues to unfold.
On Saturday January 2nd, a group of armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after peaceful protests.
The militiamen are protesting two things.
First, they are demanding that the federal government relinquish control of Oregon land.
Second, they are calling for the release of Dwight and Steven Hammond, two ranchers who were ordered to report to prison on Monday.
Dwight Hammond and his son Steven have a long history of disputes with US government agencies regarding their Oregon property. In 2012, they were convicted of setting fire to public Oregon land they leased for cattle grazing. Prosecutors said the Hammonds were attempting to cover up deer poaching in the area, while the family maintained that the fires were intended to stop the spread of invasive plants, according to the Associated Press.
The elder Hammond served a three-month sentence, while the younger was locked away for a year. In October, a court decided that the Hammonds hadn’t served enough time, citing that the minimum sentence for their offence should be five years. The court ordered both Hammonds to return to prison.
This is what sparked protests and the eventual armed occupation of the wildlife refuge.
“Dwight and Steven Hammond are being forced to report to prison today for a crime they did not commit,” Ammon Bundy, one of the leaders of the occupation, said Monday during a press conference. “They already served prison time for this.”
Local law enforcement are working with federal agencies to end the occupation peacefully. “I don’t believe that just a handful of people have the right to come in from outside of our area and tell us that we don’t know how to live our lives,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said at a town hall meeting Wednesday.
At that meeting several local residents echoed the sheriff’s dissatisfaction with the protesters. Still others said that the militiamen are highlighting important issues.
“I am not thrilled with people from outside coming in and taking over the refuge, but on the other hand, it’s brought to light a lot of the problems the ranching and the agricultural community have been experiencing,” one resident said.
On social media people used the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack to talk about the situation as it unfolded. One thing several people observed was the difference in how law enforcement responded to this protest compared to Black Lives Matter protests over the past couple of years.
“If these Oregon terrorists were black, they’d be dead,” Rian Brown, one of the leaders of the Cleveland Black Lives Matter movement told INSIDER.
Brown has frequently protested with the Black Lives Matter movement over the past year. Most recently, she took to the streets after the officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice was not indicted. She said she has seen people pushed, trampled by horses, and pepper-sprayed during protests in Cleveland, which is in stark contrast to the way law enforcement have handled the armed protesters in Oregon.
“It’s been clear that [police will] come out in full riot gear, regardless,” Brown said. “So I think that does show that there’s an inconsistency in the way they police black bodies, and it has everything to do with race.”
Ammon Bundy met with Sheriff Ward yesterday, but said the protesters would not be leaving the wildlife refuge. Bundy said they won’t leave until there is a plan in place to return federal land to locals.
Story and editing by Andrew Fowler
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