Authorities yet to respond to takeover at Oregon wildlife refuge

BURNS, Ore. - The armed activists who flocked to a remote wildlife refuge to take a stand against the federal government also looked prepared for a nippy day of hunting or fishing.

See Full Article

They were bundled in camouflage, plaid shirts, ear muffs and cowboy hats in the bleak, snow-covered high desert of eastern Oregon where they seemed more likely to encounter a bird or animal than a member of the public outside their own group or the throng of news media beyond the pickup trucks blocking the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

That may be one of the main reasons law enforcement hadn't taken action Monday against the group numbering close to two dozen who were upset about the imprisonment of father-and-son ranchers who set fire to federal land.

"These guys are out in the middle of nowhere, and they haven't threatened anybody that I know of," said Jim Glennon, a longtime police commander who now owns the Illinois-based law enforcement training organization Calibre Press. "There's no hurry. If there's not an immediate threat to anyone's life, why create a situation where there would be?"

Schools were closed for the week in Burns, about 48 kilometres north of the refuge, out of an abundance of caution, but no one had been hurt and no one was being held hostage on Monday.

The takeover puts federal officials in a delicate position of deciding whether to confront the occupiers, risking bloodshed, or stand back and possibly embolden others to directly confront the government.

The activists seized the refuge about 482 kilometres from Portland on Saturday night as part of a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.

The armed group said it wants an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land after Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, reported back to prison Monday.

The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, one of which was set to cover up deer poaching, according to prosecutors. The men served no more than a year until an appeals court judge ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.

Their sentences were a rallying cry for the group calling itself Citizens for constitutional Freedom, whose mostly male members said they want federal lands turned over to local authorities so people can use them free of U.S. oversight.

The group - led by two of the sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 Nevada standoff with the government over grazing rights - sent a demand for "redress for grievances" to local, state and federal officials.

"We have exhausted all prudent measures and have been ignored," Ammon Bundy said.

The group, which included a couple of women and some boys and girls Monday, did not release a copy of its demands and Ammon Bundy would not say what the group would do if it got no response.

President Barack Obama said Monday federal authorities were monitoring the situation, but agents made no apparent moves to surround the property or confront the group - an approach that reflected lessons learned from bloody standoffs at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, in the early 1990s.

That prompted complaints from many observers who suggested the government's response would have been swifter and more severe had the occupants been Muslim or other minorities.

"There seems to be somewhat of a reluctance to think white people are as dangerous as people of colour," said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

Beirich said the group was emboldened by the government's failure to hold Cliven Bundy or his supporters accountable in 2014 after hundreds of armed anti-government activists rallied to his defence when federal authorities started seizing his cattle over more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees.

Michael Barkun, an emeritus professor at Syracuse University who has studied extremist groups, said not confronting the Oregon group could embolden others.

"You can say, well, a negotiated settlement emboldens them," he said. "But by the same token it deprives them of a confrontation that some of them want."

The Hammonds have distanced themselves from the protest group and many locals, including people who want to see federal lands made more accessible, don't want the activists here, fearing they may bring trouble.

Seeds of the dispute date back decades in the West, where the federal government owns about half of all land.

In the 1970s, Nevada and other states pushed for local control over federal land in what was known as the "Sagebrush Rebellion."

Supporters wanted more land for cattle grazing, mining and timber harvesting and opponents wanted federal government to administer lands for the widest possible uses, including environmental and recreational.

The refuge established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect birds from hunters selling plumes to the hat industry has expanded to 776 square kilometres over the years.

The valley rimmed by distant mountains contains lakes and marshland and now surrounds the ranch Dwight Hammond bought with his father in 1964.

Hammond said his family resisted pressure to sell the ranch as the federal government chipped away at his grazing allotments and increased fees on other lands.

Ammon Bundy said the group plans to stay at the refuge as long as it takes.

On Monday, the group that includes people from Oregon, Idaho and Nevada, got some company from locals who showed up to at least learn more about their cause.

Tegan Strickland, a high school junior from a ranching family in nearby Crane, said the Hammond's case had struck a nerve with people who think a way of life is being threatened.

"A lot of people think their land's being stolen by the government," Strickland said.

-----

Associated Press Writer Brian Melley contributed from Los Angeles.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Conservative leader's free speech pledge wouldn't apply in U of T nationalist rally case

    Canada News CBC News
    A pledge by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to yank federal funding from universities that fail to uphold free speech wouldn't apply to a decision by the University of Toronto to ban a nationalist rally from campus, his spokesman said Wednesday. Source
  • Fugitive heir's trail exposes Red Bull co-owners' offshore deals

    World News CTV News
    The Bangkok billionaire family that co-founded Red Bull, the world's leading energy drink, uses offshore companies to cloak purchases of jets and luxury properties, including the posh London home where the clan's fugitive son was last seen. Source
  • Hong Kong democracy activist braces for possible prison sentence

    World News CTV News
    HONG KONG - Young Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and two other student leaders of huge pro-democracy protests in 2014 braced for a court decision Thursday that could send them to prison. The three-judge panel is due to issue its ruling on a prosecution request for stiffer sentences following a lower court decision that let them avoid prison. Source
  • 'Our great love story': Couple talks arranged marriage

    World News CTV News
    ST. PAUL, Minn. -- David and Elizabeth Weinlick’s life together began like a reality TV show, blossomed into two decades out of a romance novel, and now seems destined to end in tragedy. David Weinlick and Elizabeth Runze were strangers when they said "I do" in front of thousands of shoppers and in the national spotlight at Minnesota’s Mall of America in June 1998. Source
  • Raspberry mousse cakes sold in multiple provinces recalled by CFIA for norovirus

    Canada News CBC News
    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is recalling a number of raspberry mousse cakes after it was discovered the desserts contained norovirus. The agency issued an expanded recallon Wednesday, specifying the products have been distributed in B.C. Source
  • South Korea looks to jumpstart diplomacy in North Korea standoff

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of - In an effort to jumpstart diplomacy, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday he would consider sending a special envoy to North Korea for talks if the North stops its missile and nuclear tests. Source
  • Driver of Texas trailer indicted for 10 passengers’ deaths

    World News Toronto Sun
    SAN ANTONIO — The driver of a tractor-trailer packed with people illegally entering the United States in an alleged human smuggling operation was indicted Wednesday on charges related to the deaths of 10 people inside. James Matthew Bradley Jr. Source
  • 'They tried to kill my child to shut her up'; Woman hit, killed by car at Virginia rally mourned [Photos]

    World News Toronto Sun
    CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mourners will gather in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Wednesday to honour the woman who was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally that descended into violence last weekend. Source
  • 3 kids killed in crash northeast of Calgary, 3 others injured

    Canada News CBC News
    Three children are dead and three others are injured after a semi truck and a van collided near Highway 36 and Highway 570 in Calgary on Wednesday around 5:45 p.m. One infant, one male teenager and one female teenager were killed on scene, said Calgary EMS. Source
  • Suspected car thief perched on L.A. harbour crane

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES — A man who led authorities on a chase in a stolen car is perched on the arm of a loading crane at the Port of Los Angeles. Police say an SUV reported stolen from a dealership in San Bernardino was spotted in Los Angeles shortly after 3 p.m. Source