The FBI has made its first move to intervene in the activities of a group of ranchers who tried to overturn local government and take over federal land, and has said it is aiming for a peaceful resolution.
The armed Oregon militia, who are occupying the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, took over the site on Saturday. The move follows a 300-strong march in Burns, 50 miles north of the wildlife refuge – both incidents have been in protest against the newly increased prison sentences for father and son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were charged with arson and served time.
The Hammonds are due in court today, according to reports – they are expected to serve another four years in prison each as their first sentences for setting fires to federal land in 2001 and 2006 was deemed too lenient by the judge.
The so-called leader of the occupation, Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, whose family carried out an armed protest against federal land management officials in 2014, is speculated to have other motives.
Sheriff David Ward told USA Today that protesters came to Oregon, “claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers.”
“These men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” he added.
According to the Associated Press, federal law enforcement officials released a statement to say they would not reveal any details of how this peaceful co-operation would come about.
”Due to safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved, we will not be releasing any specifics with regards to the law enforcement response,“ the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.
Federal management has often backed down to groups of armed ranchers in the past. One example was when authorities took away the Bundy’s cattle as they hadn’t paid grazing fees – but released the animals when confronted with an angry group of men.
The wildlife refuge revealed its staff was safe via Twitter.
Thanks for your concern re the situation at Malheur NWR. All FWS staff are safe & accounted for. We are working to resolve this peacefully.— US Fish and Wildlife (@USFWS) January 3, 2016