White militants broke into and occupied a wildlife refuge in Oregon after a peaceful protest suddenly took a bizarre turn.
The illegal occupation came after 300 people walked through Burns, Oregon, in protest of prison sentences for two ranchers.
The scene in Burns Saturday morning as protestors gather in support of 2 ranchers going to prison. pic.twitter.com/ec6tmdeTik— Les Zaitz (@LesZaitz) January 2, 2016
At the fore of this takeover sits the Bundy family, whose members claim they have almost 150 men at their disposal. Onlookers, however, believe that the number of people present was much smaller, possibly around 15.
The takeover of the wildlife reserve stems from the impending imprisonment of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond. Federal authorities believe that the Hammond family burned 139 acres of land, under the pretense of fighting off invasive crops, to hide their poaching activities.
They were sentenced to five years in prison and are scheduled to report to prison on Monday.
The Hammonds’ case is part of the bigger picture, where rural western ranchers object to the government taking control of land in the state.
The Bundys demand that the government relinquish control of the federal land and let ranchers settle in its place.
Militia leaders Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne clarified that although they do not intend to hurt anyone, they will not rule out the use of violence.
It was also Ammon Bundy who had provoked militants across the country into action, by releasing a Facebook video Thursday, calling upon other militia to take a stand.
While the Hammonds greeted the peaceful protesters with signs and songs of thanks on Saturday, the family doesn't support the militia.
"Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond family," the Hammonds' lawyer W. Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward, according to CBS.
As reports from the occupation started to roll in, many on social media could not help but observe the biased stand the media was taking, steering clear of words like terrorism for the occupants.
Oh, I get it. When it's white men with guns it's "patriotism"- and yes, violence with political aim is exactly terrorism #OregonUnderAttack— Sarah Wood (@SarahWoodwriter) January 3, 2016
Let's interrogate families of the #OregonUnderAttack militiamen and spy on their places of worship. Then I remembered: nah, they're white.— omid safi (@ostadjaan) January 3, 2016
Instead of the all-out police and tactical response one might expect from armed militia taking over federal land, so far the police response is muted, The Oregonian reports. The newspaper notes the land is remote and no federal agents are in danger.
This isn't the first time the Bundy family took its beef with the government to a standoff. Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Ammon's father, had a 20-year legal dispute with the U.S. government over cattle grazing land. The eventual armed standoff in Nevada in 2014 also included Ryan Payne, now a prime figure in the Oregon militia's actions.
Like now, federal authorities had a rather muted response to the aftermath of the Nevada standoff, The Oregonian reported, speculating that the government's failure to collect on $1 million in grazing fines against the Bundys helped spur the Oregon action.
"That retreat has emboldened militia members as they now face the prospect of another standoff," the paper reported.