Militia takes over Oregon wildlife refuge

Jan 3, 2016 4:46 AM by CBS News

BURNS, Ore. -- A peaceful protest Saturday in support of an eastern Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson was followed shortly afterward by an occupation of a building at a national wildlife refuge.

Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights, told The Oregonian he and two of his brothers were among a group of dozens of people occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Bundy posted a video on his Facebook page asking for people to come help him. Below the video is this statement: "(asterisk)(asterisk)ALL PATRIOTS ITS TIME TO STAND UP NOT STAND DOWN!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! COME PREPARED."

Ammon Bundy said the group planned to stay at the refuge indefinitely.

"We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely," Ammon Bundy said. "This is not a decision we've made at the last minute."

An Idaho militia leader who helped organize the earlier march said he knew nothing about activities after a parade of militia members and local residents in Burns walked past the sheriff's office and the home of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven.

Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, told The Associated Press the agency was aware of the situation at the national wildlife refuge. She made no further comment.

"While the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee safety and we can confirm that no federal staff were in the building at the time of the initial incident," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in a statement. "We will continue to monitor the situation for additional developments."

Some local residents feared the Saturday rally would involve more than speeches, flags and marching. But the only real additions to that list seemed to be songs, flowers and pennies.

As marchers reached the courthouse, they tossed hundreds of pennies at the locked door. Their message: civilians were buying back their government. After the march passed, two girls swooped in to scavenge the pennies.

A few blocks away, Hammond and his wife Susan greeted marchers, who planted flower bouquets in the snow. They sang some songs, Hammond said a few words, and the protesters marched back to their cars.

Dwight Hammond has said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison Jan. 4 as ordered by the judge.

Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit the fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.

The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time -- the father three months, the son one year. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.

"Remember: It's not about me, it's about America and somehow we have to get the wheels back on this wagon because they are flying off," Dwight Hammond told KOIN. He said he feels his upcoming prison term is a life sentence.

"I'm not very happy about that. Just don't know what to say," Hammond said. "It just seems like a little overreach for having burned 127 acres."

The case has generated controversy in a remote part of the state.

In particular, the Hammonds' new sentences touched a nerve with far right groups who repudiate federal authority.

Ammon Bundy and a handful of militiamen from other states arrived last month in Burns, some 60 miles from the Hammond ranch.

In an email to supporters, Ammon Bundy criticized the U.S. government for a failed legal process.

However, an attorney for the Hammonds attempted to distance them from Bundy.

"Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family," the Hammonds' lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward, KOIN reported.

© 2016 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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