Federal authorities are planning to cut off the power of the wildlife refuge in Oregon that has been taken over by militia, exposing the armed occupiers to sub-zero temperatures in an effort to flush them out.
Armed militants will begin their third day at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a remote federal outpost in eastern Oregon, on Tuesday, and have vowed to remain for months in protest over the treatment of two local cattle ranchers.
A federal government official told the Guardian that authorities were planning on Monday to cut the power at the refuge.
“It’s in the middle of nowhere,” said the official, who is based in Washington, DC, and has knowledge of the planned response to the militia. “And it’s flat-ass cold up there.”
The official, who asked not to be named, said they were not privy to the FBI’s plan of action. However, they said the US Park Service, which is leading the crisis management reaction to the occupation in liaison with the FBI, planned to cut the power to the building where the militiamen are spending their nights.
Any such move would mark a significant escalation in the crisis. The local sheriff, FBI and other law enforcement officials have so far held back from confronting the militia, who are heavily armed and have lookouts on a watchtower.
The militia have said they do not want a violent confrontation but made clear they are armed and prepared for the arrival of law enforcement officials. However, it appears that federal authorities were planning to use the power cut, and an attempt to starve the militia of supplies, in order to force them out.
“After they shut off the power, they’ll kill the phone service,” the government official added. “Then they’ll block all the roads so that all those guys have a long, lonely winter to think about what they’ve done.”
Snowstorms are expected in the wilderness surrounding the refuge on Tuesday, which is some 30 miles from the town of Burns. At night, temperatures are forecast to plummet to -8C (18F).
The militia, numbering few more than a dozen, have been building fires to stay warm and have been sleeping in the building usually used by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the refuge for wild birds.
Reached by phone around 10.30pm on Monday, Ammon Bundy, a key member of the the militia, said electricity in the refuge building was still functioning. He added: “We’re ready and waiting if the power should be shut down.”
Bundy has repeatedly said the group is prepared for the long-haul. However during a tour of the site on earlier in the day, the Guardian was shown a food storage room that did not look like it could sustain a dozen men for more than a few weeks.
It included a cardboard box of apples and oranges, a few dozen pots of instant ramen, 24 cans of chicken noodle soup, a similar number of cans of sweetcorn, peas, beans and chili, and 20 boxes of macaroni and cheese.
There were also three sacks of potatoes, one bag of flour, another of rolled oats, boxes of raisins, a single bag of pretzels and one granola bar.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, John M Glionna and Jason Wilson