Armed militia members and protestors have occupied a federal building in rural Oregon and vowed to stay there indefinitely in an anti-government call-to-arms supporting rancher’s rights.
The protest and armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is being led by three sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in an armed standoff with government officials over grazing rights in 2014.
Bundy’s son Ammon told NBC News the protestors have vowed to stay in the federal wildlife building for years.
We’re prepared to be out here for as long as needs be. Once they can use these lands as free men then we will have accomplished what we came to accomplish.
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) January 3, 2016
The protest leaders are calling on anti-government militias across the country to join them in Oregon.
The armed takeover follows a peaceful protest in nearby Burns, Oregon where 300 militia members marched through the town to support ranchers’ rights. The group is fighting for two ranchers who face jail time for arson.
Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, face five years in prison for burning 130 acres of leased federal land in an effort to conceal poaching. The ranchers argued they were trying to reduce the chance of wildfires on their land and stop the growth of invasive plant species.
After the peaceful protest, a group of armed protestors took over the wildlife building about 60 miles away from Burns.
— Paul B. Raushenbush (@raushenbush) January 3, 2016
Prior to the protest and armed takeover, militia leader Ammon Bundy posted a video to Facebook calling on militia groups across the country to report to Burns by Jan. 2, according to the Washington Post.
ALL PATRIOTS ITS TIME TO STAND UP NOT STAND DOWN!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! COME PREPARED.
The Harney County Sheriff’s office said the group of protestors and militia members had no interest in supporting local ranchers and were just using the situation to spark an armed overthrow of the government.
The Hammond family issued a statement through their lawyers that the armed group doesn’t represent them, and the ranchers intend to report to jail Monday.
One protestor, Washington Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Maureen Peltier, told the Oregonian that some protestors brought children, that the militiamen didn’t want an armed confrontation with the government, and that they weren’t holding hostages.
There is absolutely no armed standoff. They want us to know: They are simply occupying land and a building owned by ‘We The People.’ Our tax dollars. And that for them, this is a civil peaceful protest.
However, another protestor, Jon Ritzheimer, recorded a video saying a tearful goodbye to his family, reports Think Progress.
I want to die a free man.
One of the militia men occupying the fed wildlife refuge in OR left a goodbye video to his family. https://t.co/GIg65GbieV
— JJ MacNab (@jjmacnab) January 3, 2016
Ryan Bundy told reporters his group of militia members would be willing to fight and die if authorities attempted to retake the building, according to the Washington Post.
During the Sunday new conference, Bundy said the group has yet to hear from authorities and had no desire to be aggressive, according to the Washington Post.
What we’re doing is not rebellious. What we’re doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.
The group is reported to be in high spirits, has lit bonfires to stay warm, and is allowing members to freely come and go; a security team has been set to monitor the perimeter.
The federal building was closed for the holidays and unoccupied when the armed takeover occurred.
Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images