Armed Militia in Oregon Part of Long-running, Right-wing Fight Against Public Lands

Militants watch from a watch tower at the National Wildlife headquarters in Burns. The group, which occupied the grounds Saturday, say they have enough supplies to stay for years. In interview Sunday, they would not say what weapons they're carrying or how many people are on the grounds. Photo by Mark Graves, The Oregonian/
Militants watch from a watch tower at the National Wildlife headquarters in Burns. The group, which occupied the grounds Saturday, say they have enough supplies to stay for years. In interview Sunday, they would not say what weapons they’re carrying or how many people are on the grounds. Photo by Mark Graves, The Oregonian/

Below is a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.– mk

An armed militia has taken over a federal building in southeastern Oregon as part of a long-running campaign of violence, intimidation and right-wing paranoia that has festered for decades in the West, most recently with the standoff with Cliven Bundy in Nevada in 2014. Among the demands at the latest standoff is to shut down Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which provides crucial protections for wildlife, especially birds that migrate through the area.

“This is the latest in a long-string of armed, right-wing thugs attempting to seize America’s public lands and enact their paranoid, anti-government dream bought by guns and intimidation,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve seen it with pipebombs planted on wilderness trails and sent to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. We saw in 2014 with Cliven Bundy and his racist and violent rhetoric in Nevada and now we’re seeing it with his sons in Oregon.”

Bundy stopped paying the federal government for the privilege of grazing his cows on public lands in Nevada and owes about $1 million to taxpayers. Bundy, who was quoted in an interview with The New York Times wondering whether black people were better off as slaves, was the center of an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in April 2014 that ended with the BLM backing away and Bundy’s continued trespass on federal land. Among the anti-federal government militia who were defending Bundy at his ranch was Jared Miller who just three months after the standoff at the ranch went on a shooting spree with his wife that included the ambush-murder of two Las Vegas police officers as they ate at a restaurant. They draped the officers with a Gadsden flag — a symbol of liberty used by both the antigovernment “Patriot” movement and members of the Tea Party movement.

The latest standoff near Burns, Ore. followed a judge’s call for additional prison time for a father and son – 73-year-old Dwight Hammond and 46-year-old Steven Hammond – who prosecutors say lit a fire on federal land in 2001 to cover up the illegal slaughter of a deer herd. Both were convicted of arson and are scheduled to report to federal prison on Monday.

The wildlife refuge’s headquarters was seized by Bundy’s sons and others on Saturday. The men are armed and say they are willing to occupy the building for years if needed. According to the Oregonian, Ryan Bundy said that they’re willing to kill and be killed if necessary. Also among the armed occupiers of the wildlife fefuge building is Jon Ritzheimer, an infamous anti-Muslim activist who has repeatedly threatened violence.

“Despite their flags and patriotic overtures, don’t mistake this standoff for anything than what it is: An attempt to use guns to seize control over what taxpayers own and bully the government into acquiescing to their demands,” Suckling said. “But there’s a larger context here. What’s happening in Oregon is a logical outgrowth of right-wing rhetoric that demonizes even the concept of federal land – places like national parks and forests — and villianizes those who believe that publicly owned land should be more than just a source of profit for ranchers and corporations.”

There’s been a growing movement among politicians in the West to seize control of federal lands and hand them over to state and local government, where they’re more likely to be logged, mined and drilled for profit.

“These are special places that deserve protection for values that we all hold dear: clean air, water and refuge for wildlife,” Suckling said. “Americans, collectively, have decided that these public lands need and deserve protection. That shouldn’t be undone at the behest of men with guns and a dangerous view of how a government should be run.”

28 thoughts on “Armed Militia in Oregon Part of Long-running, Right-wing Fight Against Public Lands”

  1. The original attempt to drive the Hammonds off their land by the Fish and Wildlife Service at the instigation of groups like Oregon Natural Desert Association sounds very similar to the tactics of Keiran and his CBD. If I’m remembering right the Center for Biological Diversity made a six figure payment upheld on appeal as punishment in one of their anti rancher smear jobs.
    Bundy et al might well be wing nuts but the Hammonds have a very compelling story, not of taking federal land but rather of the feds taking their land, a story replicated many times over in Keiran Suckling’s nefarious war on ranching. No doubt it’s the similarity in the back story that has Keiran interested, not the Bundy nutters.

    • “… the Hammonds have a very compelling story, not of taking federal land but rather of the feds taking their land …”

      Well, no, they don’t actually. From the bulk of the stories I’ve read, the media is not doing its homework. The following link is from the Oregon District U.S. Attorney’s office:

      The Hammond’s repeatedly acted with malice, and sought to use intimidation to cover up their malicious acts. The media makes it sound like the feds are bringing the hammer down on them for simple negligence. Not the case. They got their jury trial. Now they are getting their mandatory minimum sentence.

      In regard to the slack-jawed yokels playing martyr at the refuge, I think the best thing to do is leave them be for the moment. The feds should turn their focus back to Cliven Bundy while all eyes are on Oregon.. Set up perimeter and when the crusaders come running to his rescue, nab them on the interstate. Kill two vultures with one stone.

      • “from the bulk of the stories I’ve read”
        The state of Oregon, and the federal government have a side that has been told. The Hammonds also have a side that differs and most definitely isn’t being told.
        Make of these what you will.
        The Hammonds were only convicted of two things. The two fires they started on their own land, one of which spread to federal land and caused no damage. No poaching, no conspiracy, arial this or that, no endangering anyone, etc.
        The feds have coveted that land a long time, they got all the other ranchers to sell out, as part of the sentencing agreement the Hammonds give the govt right of first refusal on their land which is the real objective of the govt in the first place.

        • “The state of Oregon, and the federal government have a side that has been told. The Hammonds also have a side that differs and most definitely isn’t being told.”

          True. And a jury of their peers decided who’s story was correct. That’s kinda how we decide these issues in the U.S. That is, however, if one believes in the rule of law.

    • Um, yes, numerous ones. Do you honestly fail to see any?

      For the record, here is the “About” section to this blog, which Sharon wrote:

      “Our goal is to solicit broad participation from a cross-section of interests in a respectful atmosphere of mutual learning on topics related to the Forest Service and public lands policy.

      Seems to me there are lots of ‘topics related to public lands policy’ at play.

      • Fair enough, Matthew. At this point, this is a very local issue, not involving federal forest land, but there’s no harm in a respectful discussion.

    • Question: Is it good or bad forest policy to punish untrained private actors who put others in harms way by setting backfires on public lands downslope of an encampment of wildland firefighters?

      Might be a forest policy issue here….

      Federal Inaction for 19 Months on Bundy Spawns More Militia Confrontations

      Washington, DC —This week’s armed seize of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by self-styled “militia” stems from the lack of a coherent response to earlier confrontations with anti-government extremists, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), pointing to a threat assessment from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The failure by the federal government to take any action following the April 2014 armed stand-off with renegade rancher Cliven Bundy was seen by his supporters as a victory and encouraged his sons and other followers to stage similar clashes.”

      The NFS is still run by the federal government which has an obligation to taxpayers. These situations demonstrate there are two sets of rules. Wealthy white Christian racists in armed conflict facing down federal officers failing to enforce public laws makes for a rather compelling forest planning angle.

      Let’s not kid ourselves. If these extremists were black, of green ideals, or brown- skinned, or worshipping Allah, they’d be labeled as terrorists and summarily executed in Hollywood style-made for TV news segments. Unarmed blacks and Hispanics are being murdered routinely by these same federal and municipal officers under the guise of law enforcement and the story is often buried for months or years.

      The forest planning angle goes on: takeover by privatization of federal lands has been happening quietly for decades by billionaire-funded cadres of collaborationists getting aided and abetted by federal employees charged with acting in the publics best interest. This may help to differentiate the motives of federal and state employees responding to white skinned, gun crazed libertarian whack jobs seizing public land versus unarmed darker colored skin varieties simply trying to survive in public spaces.

    • The threat was “I’m going to tear off your head and **it down your neck” which is a common greeting here in the west. He is also reported to have called the man a certain rear orifice. (FWS charged) If you really want to get someone riled here you call them a liar, then you either fight or be considered a coward.
      If courts are where we decide which version of events is legit then I’d guess there never was a credible death threat.
      Hunter celebrities get death threats in the thousands, they really don’t count for much, especially when they are more rhetorical than specific.

  2. Yes, these people are radicals, but I think you should think about where they are coming from.
    When environmental laws make corporations rich but denies access of the local population to our public resources, there has to be consequences. Yes, many people living in rural areas do resent being locked out of federal lands, no resource, no jobs.
    I kind of resent the long harangue by the Center of Biodiversity. Is this site a mouthpiece for them?

    • The public has great access to their multiple-use public lands for recreation, enjoying fish & wildlife populations, water quantity and quality, AND some compatible logging and grazing.

      This particular refuge was once private land but it was so badly managed that it became over-grazed and unprofitable, so the government BOUGHT and PAID for it and converted it to higher uses such as wildlife and recreation.

  3. A fairly thorough narrative of the two arson fires that the Hammond’s were convicted of starting: . I am not sure what the issue is here. They intentionally set fires that endangered lives. They are going to jail. The BLM decided that it wasn’t going to do business with them anymore because of their past performance. Has there been a similar response to the USFS denying timber contracts to logging outfits that have a record of failing to perform on timber sales? Or does the plight of the poor old cowboy just bring out the…

      • Let’s cut to the quick in this familiar narrative normalizing simplistic, extremist, views parroted by stenographic reporters feeling no professional obligation to vetting such claims — either by countervailing points of view, or presenting a fact-based inquiry of cliche’ libertarian/ neoliberal diatribes:

        “the federal government has placed increasing emphasis on the environment, which has led to more restrictions on ranching, grazing, mining and other traditional uses of the land. ”

        “…situation illustrates the larger issue of excessive federal government control over citizens’ lives.”

        “The federal government owns more than half the land in the state, as it does across much of the West. It used to be routine for ranchers to get permits to graze cattle or cut timber or work mines — a way to make a living from the land.”

        “Then came increasing environmental regulations, and the federal land became more for owls and sage grouse than for local people trying to feed their families, said Soper, 39, who lives 100 miles up the road in Bend.”

        “The federal government has done a gross injustice to the Hammonds, which has severely damaged the long-term trust and cooperation that ranchers and foresters and recreationists have had with BLM,”

        “the government had invited it with excessive regulations that are hurting people economically.”

  4. In fact, it’s just downright creepy, the kid glove treatment afforded these domestic terrorists.

    After personally witnessing the horror at the WTO in Seattle and bearing witness to the news coverage of decades of peaceful public protests, it’s creepy. In what passes for news reporting on TV, I can attest and you will likely confirm: It has not gone well for the defenseless pacifist protestors.

    Even corporate TV was not bashful about demonstrating the full extent of the savagery of institutionally-sanctioned violence by state and federal law officers — leveled upon dominantly peaceful, unarmed, taxpaying protestors.

    In that horrific montage an image of an Iraq war veteran stands out, receiving a “non-lethal” police projectile to the skull at close range, while police hindered his medical assistance and continued, shooting, gassing and pummeling nearby nonviolent protestors and would be caregivers.

    Protestors with legitimate grievances of infringements of civil justice and their civil rights —

    To realize that the well-off, gun-waving shameless halfwits in Oregon receive kid glove treatment by the same ranks of lethally-violent federal and state officers passively noting their armed standoff, takeover and occupation of a federal building, has to give any thinking person pause.

    This is all because they disagreed with an arson conviction and mandatory minimum sentence reached by a jury their peers, and oh yeah, they demanded the rights to seize all assets of all nearby public lands for themselves and their friends… Well then…

    Then, there is nothing to conclude, other than our principal Federal, State, and municipal law enforcement officers have a much softer spot in their hearts for armed militant White Supremacist Extremists, than unarmed, nonviolent members of the public of all ages, in all states, protesting injustice.

    Should we be worried by this demonstrated governmental affinity for the White Supremacist cause ?
    Only if government based upon a democratic constitutional republic matters to you.

    • I think it’s sending a dangerous message to ALL radical causes. Bring guns to ideological fight and you will be granted the kid glove treatment by law enforcement, and wide dissemination of whatever ideology being spouted — without critical examination — by the media.

      Creepy, yes. Scary, definitely.

  5. Here’s a relevant letter to the editor of the Eastern Oregonian newspaper from a retired Forest Supervisor.

    Amid the flurry and frustrations associated with the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this past week are new calls to “turn the land back to the people.” While this makes for good bumper stickers and plays to political gains, I would challenge this thinking. We are the citizen owners of these lands already.

    Very little of the federal lands managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service were ever in private ownership. Most of these lands were wrested from Native Americans in the mid 1850s, and what was not settled or claimed became part of the public domain. Over the decades, various laws and authorities were developed to help manage and regulate use of these lands for the greater good of a diverse public.

    Politicians have a long history in the West of wanting to divest of these federal lands in response to needs of some of their constituents. This recently occurred with Representative Greg Walden’s attempts in the Klamath Basin, Senator Ted Cruz’s proposed amendments to the Sportsman’s Protection Act, and other similar attempts in Utah and Idaho. While politically expedient, my question is, at what cost to us as citizen owners?

    Environmental protections on federally managed lands are far greater than on state or private lands. These lands are managed under a multiple use mandate, whereas states like Oregon and Washington have strong legal mandates to generate revenue as a prime land management driver. If these lands are not generating enough income, there are strong incentives to sell them off, as is currently being discussed with the Elliot State Forest.

    There is no free lunch in giving these lands to states and others. It is very expensive to manage the many uses of these lands, fight fires, maintain roads, trails, facilities and boundaries, and deal with the inevitable lawsuits that result from competing interests. States are currently challenged to balance their budgets and meet PERS obligations without taking on an additional workforce. The temptation to sell would be strong, taking these lands from public use forever.

    Visionaries such as Teddy Roosevelt established most of these public lands over a hundred years ago. These are national treasures that will only become more valuable to the public over time. Certainly it is inefficient and frustrating at times to try to please 320 million owners, but the public lands are a great equalizer — each one of us, no matter our backgrounds, our ethnicity, or our financial or educational standings has equal opportunities to enjoy and access these lands. Attempts to divest our citizenry of these treasures are ill founded, self-serving, and short-sighted.

    Jeff Blackwood

  6. The dude that threatened the President’s dog got arrested last week. Nothing is happening to these guys. This is crazy. Why have Federal L&E at all in these management agencies if this is all they can do? Where is the FBI? Why doesn’t the governor send in the national guard? Is there no tear gas in Oregon? I think the federal government is a pretty poor steward myself, as an Easterner, but they’re better than the subsidized western livestock folks. Every producer east of the Mississippi ought to be questioning any grazing rights out West. It just props up people trying to raise cows where it cannot profitably or efficiently be done. I can manage 1 cow 1 calf per acre and still have too much grass.

    Drove by Harper’s Ferry the other day. Seems like when John Brown took over the Armory there, we sent in the US Army and promptly hauled his butt out. This is sedition. And it ought to be dealt with swiftly and harshly.

  7. Anyone remember Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs? At the bottom are food, shelter, safety while “self-actualization” is at the tip of the triangle.

    Over the past quarter century public-land management thrust has shifted from the basics -supplying human needs (shelter, food, economic safety and security– jobs) – to the more abstract and transcendental (wilderness experience, esthetics, old growth preservation, T&E species and antiquities protection). In making this transition, the fed’s have, in large part, abandoned what many see as their primary obligation: meeting fundamental human needs . The resulting resource non-management has imposed severe economic and psycho-social consequences on the people closest to the land. Policy makers have largely ignored these consequences, resulting in deep and widespread citizen frustration as manifested in the ongoing armed occupancy of the Malheur NWR.

    The responsibility for this failure to consider basic human needs must be shared by the managing agencies, the congress, which has failed to provide funding and clear direction (93 laws now govern the sale of N.F. timber), and with single-focus environmental activists. While the unbalanced implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan has been a major factor contributing to this situation in the Pacific Northwest, the problem is nationwide and common to all federal resource management agencies.

    Without recognition of this failure, and in the absence of remedial action by congress, these expressions of deep-seated resentment will continue and multiply.

    • What would Maslow think? That these domestic terrorists occupying a federal building suffer un-met needs? Based upon their expensive trucks, their impressive armaments, and even their need for self-actualizing through law-breaking and life-threatening declarations, I’d say their government’s being mighty generous. All taxpaying owners of public lands are paying through the nose for their self-actualization, and the local citizens are expressing overwhelming opposition to their domestic terrorism.

      Meanwhile, their government just sent a peace activist grandmother to jail for six months for the heinous crime of taking a picture of a predator drone protest.

    • Well, since we’re getting all psychological Mac, I suggest you interpret your response through the lens of the following link:

      I was reminded of this study when I read your statement:
      “In making this transition, the fed’s have, in large part, abandoned what many see as their primary obligation: meeting fundamental human needs . The resulting resource non-management has imposed severe economic and psycho-social consequences on the people closest to the land. Policy makers have largely ignored these consequences, resulting in deep and widespread citizen frustration as manifested in the ongoing armed occupancy of the Malheur NWR.”

      What a perfectly tidy, black and white, (low cognitive complexity) argument.
      I would argue that the feds have not “abandoned” their primary obligation. Rather, understanding about what the “primary” (low on Maslow’s hierarchy) obligation is has evolved over time. The government’s understanding BEGAN just like you’ve stated. However, it soon became obvious that, no, private actors are very often NOT the best stewards of the land. Have you ever read The Sand County Almanac? How about Beyond the Hundredth Meridian? Cadillac Desert? These are all histories of what happens when private actors are allowed to over-exploit society’s MOST BASIC NEEDS (clean air and water).

      Thus, your narrative completely turns on it’s head the real reason the Land Management Agencies were originally created. I read a wonderful Mark Twain quote the other day that I think succinctly characterizes your argument: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” That, in a nutshell, is the problem with thinking that is low in cognitive complexity. And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with the thinking of the Y’allQueda domestic terrorists.

  8. The genesis of the public land movement was rooted in protecting spectacular lands and stopping rampant abuse that was perpetrated, not in pursuit of “the basics” as Mac puts it but greed. The sense of entitlement and wanton disregard for environmental consequences that existed then still pervades the ideology of those at Malheur refuge. Private lands, not public, should be where single-purpose, profit driven activity occurs. Frankly, even that should be up for debate, as related to the tragedy of the commons. I find the inference that “life was good” prior to the NW Forest Plan laughable.


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