Oregon occupation: Armed militia occupying wildlife reserve wants to 'overthrow US government and spark national uprising', says local sheriff

The armed group has claimed it is defending two local cattle ranchers from government tyranny as they face prison sentences for arson

A US sheriff has said the armed militia which has seized control of a federally owned nature reserve in Oregon wants to overthrow the government. 

The group began its occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns after they broke away from a peaceful protest against the conviction of a group of local ranchers for arson.

The Harney County Sheriff David Ward told local news channel KTVZ: These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.”

According to Facebook posts by members of the so-called “patriot movement”, children were arriving on the reserve and appeared to be coming and going from the site freely. 

USA: Armed militia continue to occupy forest reserve in Oregon

One member, Maureen Peltier, wrote: “Children are on the refuge now. Good men and women. Please make peaceful, responsible choices. But do not hang them out to dry.

“These men and women are traveling freely at this time, to and from the refuge. There is no stand off.”

She said in another post that there had been a baby at the refuge but that it since been taken away.

The group is led by the Bundy family - originally from Nevada - who claim they are defending Dwight and Steven Hammond - a father and son who are due to return to prison on Monday after having had their convictions for arson increased by a Oregon judge.

They were originally convicted for setting 100 acres of public land on fire in Oregon between 2001 and 2006 and were initially sentenced for three months and one year in jail respectively, but a judge reviewing the case said that was too lenient. 

The Hammonds said they were using the fires to reduce the growth of invasive plants and to protect their property from wildfires on the land they had leased from the government.

The pair have said they did not support the aims of the militiamen and had nothing to do with the protest. 

The leader of the occupying group, Ammon Bundy - son of controversial anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy - said they were planning to stay on “for years”

In a Facebook video, Ammon and his brother Ryan said: “This will become a base place for patriots from all over the country to come to be housed and live here. 

 “We’re doing this for the people. We’re doing this so the people can have their land and their resources back where they belong. We’re calling people to come and stand. We need you to bring your arms and we need you to come to the Malheur National Wildlife refuge.”