Republicans Mum On Oregon Standoff During Latest Western Land Dispute

The Republican party – in particular its current lineup of presidential candidates – is keeping predictably quiet about the Oregon standoff involving an armed group that has taken over part of a national wildlife refuge near Burns, Oregon, reported the Washington Post.

“Few candidates seemed willing to wade into any of these issues Sunday as the leaders of the group said they are standing up against government overreach and are prepared to remain there for ‘as long as it takes.'”

The group is reportedly protesting the cases of two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of arson in 2012 and are scheduled to be incarcerated in a federal prison Monday, January 4. According to ThinkProgress, the Oregon standoff includes a backstory involving a “volatile mix of anti-government ideology and industrial greed.”

The days leading up to the Hammonds’ incarceration have seen hundreds of supporters appear, traveling to Burns in order to take part in a public rally to protest the what they see as an “unduly harsh” five-year federal prison sentence. Since then, a much smaller group of these protesters has reportedly separated to “seen an open conflict with federal agents by taking over a nearby wildlife facility,” reported ThinkProgress.

The Hammonds were convicted on a broad terrorism charge, since many ranchers and land users in western states lease public land that belongs to the Federal government. The current Oregon standoff to protest their impending incarceration is being led by at least one son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who the Washington Post reported also had an armed standoff with the government over cattle-grazing land rights in 2014.

Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) – who is still in the running for the 2016 conservative presidential nomination – reportedly met with Bundy and other members of his family in Mesquite, Nevada, as he campaigned across western states. Paul called for federal land to be transferred to states in the West and Bundy told the Washington Post that he and Paul spoke for “15 to 20 minutes, mostly about land rights.”

Some of the other more conservative Republican candidates have also called for the federal government to release control of more of the land it currently owns to the states, with the issue taking on increasing importance in the GOP primary contest as it plays out in states like Colorado, Idaho and Nevada. Sen Paul also addressed the issue at a rally in Reno.

“I understand the government owns a little bit of your land out here. Maybe we can rearrange that so the federal government is out of your hair.”

Paul did not address the standoff Sunday.

Republican presidential candidate and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) has also campaigned (so far unsuccessfully) for federal land to be sold to states. His 2015 memoir, titled “A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America,” talked in particular about Cruz and his bond with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who agree on the issue.

“There is no reason for the federal government to own huge portions of any state. Mike pointed out to me that the value of all that federal land was roughly $14 trillion. At the time, the national debt also happened to be $14 trillion. That suggested to us an obvious and elegant solution for eliminating the debt and moving as much land as possible – other than national parks – into private hands.”

Senator Cruz also did not comment on the Oregon standoff Sunday.

Located about half an hour south of Burns near Malheur Lake, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is home to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service building the armed militiamen have occupied. The group is reportedly being led by a Nevada rancher named Ammon Bundy, who is the son of Cliven Bundy. Ammon claims to have at least 150 armed men holed up at the facility, but some reports suggest this number could be grossly exaggerated.:

[Photo credit Rebecca Boone/Associated Press]

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