By: Regina Wright ~Staff Writer~
Armed men broke into the empty headquarters of a federally-owned national wildlife refuge on Jan. 9 following a peaceful protest in support of an eastern Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson. Ammon Bundy, the son of anti-government Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is the group’s spokesman. Bundy took to social media to encourage supporters to join him and come to the outpost about 30 miles from Burn, Ore. Bundy has not disclosed how many armed members are at the refuge, but he is joined by his brother Ryan Bundy.
In a press conference, Bundy said that the group has decided to call itself the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and wants two things from the government. First, it wants the government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge so that “people can reclaim their resources,” Bundy told CNN on Monday. Second, it wants an easier sentence for Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, the ranchers who were charged in 2012 for arson on federal lands.
The protesters claimed that the father and son were being forced to serve more time than originally sentenced. Bundy and his group eventually separated from the protest to seize the federal wildlife refuge building.
The Hammonds said in 2001 that they started a fire on their property to protect themselves from wildfires by reducing the growth of invasive plants, but the fire became out of control and burned 138 acres of federal land. Prosecutors said they set fires to cover up poaching.
“The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie- Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area,” according to a statement published by the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday.
Federal law mandates a five-year minimum sentence. The first federal judge who oversaw the case considered the mandatory minimum too harsh according to the Eighth Amendment. Dwight Hammond was sentenced to three months and Steven Hammond was sentenced to two 12-month sentences to be served concurrently. The father and son served their sentences.
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that the men had to serve the mandatory minimum sentence. The attorney for Hammonds has said that they are cooperating with the government and do not support the actions of Bundy and his group.
The FBI stated that it is working with state and local police to work toward a peaceful resolution. Some social media users claim there is a race-based double standard for Bundy and are using the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack. They claim if the militants were not white, there would be swifter and harsher actions by law enforcement. Bundy has said that they are prepared to stay for weeks or months if necessary.