Armed anti-government protesters occupied a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon on Saturday protesting the perceived oppressive management of rural public land by the federal government.
The scheduled jailing of two Oregon ranchers who burned hundreds of acres of federal land motivated the armed group to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Here is what we know about the situation unfolding in Oregon, the people involved, and the issue at the centre of the standoff.
How did it all start?
At the centre of the protests is the case of Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, who admitted to lighting fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 to protect their property from invasive species and stem future wildfires.
The Oregonian reports the Hammonds were convicted three years ago and served time — the father three months, the son one year. But in October, a federal judge in Oregon ruled their terms were too short under the U.S. minimum sentencing laws and ordered them back to prison where the father faces five years and the son four years.
Where is this all taking place?
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is about 50 km south of Burns in eastern Oregon.
It is a very remote area located about 450 km southeast of Portland, the state’s largest city. Officials have said there are no government employees in the building now occupied by the protesters.
Who is leading the protests?
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who are well-known for their anti-government sentiment, are leading the protest.
Cliven Bundy was involved in a 2014 standoff with federal agents who tried to confiscate cattle he had illegally grazed on federal land since 1993. The New York Times reported he had attracted the support of many prominent conservatives at the time until his suggestion that African-Americans might have been better off in slavery led him to be quickly denounced.
Ammon Bundy told CBS news said the protests were in response to the “abuses” by all levels of government.
“We have a situation here where the federal government has come down upon the people. They have been doing it for some time now,” Bundy said. “There have been some tremendous abuses. They have used the courts to prosecute and to basically take the land and resources away from the people.”
On Sunday, Ryan Bundy told The Associated Press that he hopes the protest will spur others across the country to seize control of federally managed land.
“The end goal here is that we are here to restore the rights to the people here so that they can use the land and resources. All of them,” Bundy said.
What are authorities doing about the standoff?
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in statement Sunday afternoon he was working with local and federal authorities to resolve the situation as quickly and peacefully as possible.
“After the peaceful rally was completed [Saturday], a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters,” Ward said. “A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area.”
Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, told the Associated Press investigators are aware of the situation at the national wildlife refuge but made no further comment.
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