In an apparent tactical shift, the Bundy militia – on its second day of armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon – transitioned from a lockdown state to one of invitation. It allowed a few reporters onto the land in order to tell its story. The local sheriff had his doubts about the invitation, however.
Sheriff David Ward released a statement that, “These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers when in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.”
Over the weekend, the members of the Bundy militia occupied the wildlife refuge and threatened a showdown with federal authorities. They undertook this “mission” in order to support two fellow cattle ranchers who were tried and convicted of setting fires on federal property.
Father and son, Steven and Dwight Hammond, said they set the fires while attempting to clear their own, private land so their cattle could graze and feed. But, the authorities did not buy the story and the ranchers served time in prison and are set to serve additional time beginning on Monday.
The man leading the militia occupying the federal buildings, Ammon Bundy, insisted his men were there in peace. He did say, however, that if the federal government tried to retake the refuge, “they would be putting lives at risk.”
When the journalists arrived, Bundy, told them that, “Your role is very important. We do believe that . . . the American people have a right to know what’s going on.”
For Bundy, the re-sentencing/re-imprisonment of his fellow ranchers is just a civil rights issue, and he believes his armed militia members are only civil rights protectors. He believes the Hammonds were wrongly persecuted by the feds because they would not “sell their ranch so it can be added to the Malheur wildlife refuge.”
Bundy stated that the Hammonds were the target of “vindictive behaviors.”
During the brief meeting with reporters, the visible presence of law enforcement was nowhere to be found on or near the refuge.
Bundy proclaimed that, “Harney County at one time was the wealthiest county in the state. Because the federal government came in and blocked access to resources, it fell into economic depression. We intend to reverse that.”
He further added that, “The federal government’s job is to protect the states from the outside world. The states’ job is to protect the counties from the federal government. The counties’ job is to protect the people from the states. And the people’s job is to be free.”