Oregon Ranchers at Center of Protest Expected to Report to Prison

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The two Oregon ranchers at the center of an anti-government protest that escalated into an armed takeover of a federal wildlife building are expected to peacefully report to prison Monday. 

Dwight Hammond Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Hammond, 46, were convicted of arson for fires they started on federal property, and a judge has ordered them to return to prison for four years because the time they had already served did not meet minimum-sentencing laws.

After a rally Saturday to protest their sentences, armed militia members occupied the federal building.

Sheriff David Ward said protesters came to Harney County, in southeastern Oregon, “claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers.” In reality, he said, “these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.”

The FBI, the lead law enforcement organization, said in a release that it’s working toward a peaceful resolution to the situation with local authorities. The FBI would not release information on the law enforcement response, citing safety of the police and the occupants in the wildlife refuge.

The protest, called to support the Hammonds, escalated late Saturday into an armed takeover of the headquarters building of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, some 300 miles southeast of Portland. The protest and takeover are being led by Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a previous standoff with the government over grazing rights. Two of the younger Bundy’s brothers also are involved.

The brothers are calling on anti-government militia members from all over the country to join the building’s seizure.

“We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely,” Ammon Bundy, 40, told The Oregonian. “This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.”

Talking to reporters on Sunday, he said of the park headquarters, “We intend to use it.”

Lavoy Finicum, a neighbor of Cliven Bundy along the Arizona-Nevada border, said he joined the seizure effort because he was tired watching freedoms “being eroded away.”

“It’s going to take some time, but come summer we’d love to see these ranchers reclaim their rights,” Finicum said.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, of House District 60 which represents Burns, Ore. — the nearest town — said “There is certainly always a place for peaceful protest, and I think that this is what Harney County residents who participated in Saturday’s parade believe they were doing as they marched.”

“I also think that the sheriff and the county and the city are all doing all that they can to manage the Bundy’s self-serving attention grabbing efforts in a way that prevents Harney County from becoming a rallying cry for every anti-government person in America.”

 

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Source: USA Today | Rick Jervis