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Self-styled militia occupies bird sanctuary

Openly mocked in some social media circles as “Y’all Queda” and “Vanilla Isis,” the dozen or two members of an armed self-proclaimed “militia” calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom made headlines Saturday when they seized the unoccupied visitor center and gift shop of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns in eastern Oregon.

The group of “outside militants,” as Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward called them, is being left alone while law enforcement “works on a solution.” 

Ward called on locals to “maintain a peaceful and united front,” in contrast to the bloody 1992-93 confrontations at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, which catalyzed many far-right militia types, including 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, to view the federal government as an oppressor, bent on taking their constitutional rights. 

As news reports trickled in over the last several days, the public got a picture of weaponized far right-wing guys ready to exchange real bullets over the federal government’s age-old rights to govern millions of acres of grazing and timberland — all this triggered by the federal government’s prosecution and imprisonment of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond for burning rangeland, an incident for which they already served time but were being required to serve more time when an appeals court ruled minimum sentences weren't served.

The 103-year old Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, a respected mainstream organization, announced the OCA is helping the Hammond family in legal ways but considers them victims of “a classic case of double jeopardy” as they’ve already been tried and convicted and served their sentences. The, OCA, they said “does not support illegal activity taken against the government. This includes militia takeover of government property, such as the Malheur Wildlife Refuge." 

The Hammonds reported on Monday to a federal prison in California to serve their additional prison time. 

News reports over the weekend quoted one occupier as said he “came here to die” and another that they were equipped to hold the seized headquarters for years. One protest sign in a news photo may have said it all: “BLM, Another intrusive tyrannical government entity doing what they do best, abusing power and oppressing the backbone of America.”

On Wednesday, Burns Paiute tribe chair Charlotte Rodrique told reporters the armed occupation on ancestral lands of the Oregon Indian tribe is not welcome and they need to leave.

The militiamen seem to of a mind that since America itself was founded on rebellion and revolution, they are honored traditions among those who feel unheard and unseen, serving as a way to spread their message and, perhaps, achieve political ends, including stymieing federal government objectives.

We asked Ashlanders what they thought of the Malheur occupiers and their beliefs, visions and strategies. 

Dan Comins — It seems their tactics need some help. There’s a better way to get what you want. it’s silly, an unarmed bird sanctuary? It’s a little ridiculous. 

Natalya Koogler — I kind of feel we’ve been through all this. No one has been killed yet with this. It’s not a school shooting. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. Just don’t take it to a school. With these guys, I felt awesome. Make your stand! 

Maureen Fahey — I don’t believe in breaking the law to make a point. What they’re doing is kind of foolish. I don’t understand what they stand for, so they’re not getting it across. I don’t support it. They should let them stay there for two years and then they know where these meatheads are for two years. 

Kathy Karlovich — Their goals are OK. I think more state control of natural resources is good. Their tactics, well, I believe in revolution and more personal control. I believe in the debt revolution that was supposed to happen last October, where no one pays on their debts, but that didn’t happen. 

Tom Meyers — They are buffoons. They are silly. They’re trying to make out that they have property rights over all this land but it’s owned by the federal government which means it’s owned by all of us. Grazing rights are owned by the federal government, but we are the government. They (protestors) are grandstanding with their guns. ... I don’t want someone throwing guns in my face over their supposed rights. If they were anything other than white men, they would be dead by now, not that I want them dead.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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