Armed Ore. Militants Vow to Stay in Wildlife Center ‘for Years’; Sheriff Says They Want to Overthrow Government

On Saturday, several armed men took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. The men, led by Ammon Bundy, whose dad has defied the government in the past, have vowed to occupy the federal land for years unless two ranchers are released from prison.

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On Jan. 2, 2016, several hundred residents in Burns, Ore., gathered to protest the incarceration of two ranchers. Later that evening, some protesters took over a federal wildlife refuge.

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Several armed men who took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon continued their standoff over the weekend and vowed to remain there for years, the Washington Post reports.

According to the newspaper, militants headed by "Ammon Bundy, a Montana rancher whose father Cliven Bundy led an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada in 2014," were protesting the reported jailing of two ranchers Saturday when Ammon Bundy told protesters who wanted to take a hard stand to follow him.

Ammon Bundy then led the loose-knit group to a portion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where the men have remained since Saturday.

"These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers," Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward said in a statement, viewed by the Post, Sunday. "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."  

Several hundred Burns, Ore., residents attended the rally Saturday in a show of support for Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, who were sentenced to five years in prison after years of arguing with the federal government over federal land, the Post reports.

According to the newspaper, prosecutors alleged that in 2001 and 2006, the Hammonds committed arson on federal land and that the fires were started to destroy evidence that the men were hunting deer on federal lands. The Hammonds' attorneys argued that the fires were set on their property and spread to federal land accidentally.

"We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires. Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze," said acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams in a statement issued after the Hammonds were sentenced, the Post reports.

"Congress sought to ensure that anyone who maliciously damages United States' property by fire will serve at least five years in prison. These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place firefighters and others in jeopardy," he said.

On Sunday, Ammon Bundy told a group of reporters that the militia hasn't heard from law enforcement since taking over the building. He added that others who believe in their mission should join them.

"This refuge here is rightfully owned by the people and we intend to use it," he said, adding that if their group's occupation of the wildlife center became violent, the government would have initiated it.

"We will be here as a unified body of people that understand the principles of the Constitution," he said.

The group has been adamant that it is not holding hostages and that all of the men on the property have chosen to participate in the occupation.

"The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control," Ammon's brother, Ryan Bundy, told The Oregonian.

"What we're doing is not rebellious. What we're doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land," he said.

Ward told The Oregonian that his office does not believe residents of the area are in danger, but it has asked that residents avoid confrontation with the militants and contact police if they feel threatened.