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Center For Western Priorities Decries Oregon Militants As 'Extremists'

oregon_standoff.jpg

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Members of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters stand guard Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Ore. The group calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and has sent a "demand for redress" to local, state and federal officials. The armed anti-government group took over the remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon as part of a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.

In Harney County, Oregon, bordering Northern Nevada, a group of armed occupiers have taken over a federal wildlife refuge.

The group says they are doing it to support rancher Dwight Hammond, who along with his son Steve, went to prison Monday to serve time for arson.

Members of the Bundy family - made famous for rancher Cliven Bundy's militia standoff with federal land officials in April 2014 in Nevada - have rallied the militants.

On Monday's KNPR's State of Nevada, Ryan Bundy, who is one of the occupiers, said he wants that wildlife refuge to be turned over to local authorities, free from federal oversight.

Bundy also said he hopes the takeover will prompt others to take action across the country to seize control of federally managed land. 

Jessica Goad, the advocacy director of the Center for Western Priorities – a conservation organization based in Denver, was in Oregon at the start of the refuge takeover.

She told KNPR that she saw the group of protesters before the armed men broke off to take over the wildlife refuge. She said the protest was peaceful but many of the protesters had logos on their outfits for what she referred to as "anti-government extremists" like the Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officer Association

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Goad also said that the people she was able to talk with did not support the armed men taking over the wildlife refuge.

“These militia groups and the Bundy family are exploiting the situation of the Burns ranchers in order to make a political point about the federal government," Goad said.

In the summer, the center published a report linking western lawmakers to anti-government extremism attempting to seize public lands. 

Goad explained that in nine of the 11 states where there are efforts underway to take over federal land many legislators had connections to what she called extremist groups like the Oath Keepers, Militia of Montana, or the CSPOA or to similar ideologies.

“I think what we’re seeing in Oregon right now is no doubt an extension of that exact situation,” she said. "The arrival of militia groups to defend what they believe is the federal government violating the law in some way or another, when in fact these folks, the Hammonds, the Bundys, whoever is at issue, is they themselves in violating the law.” 

However, the situation in Oregon differs from the standoff at the Bundy ranch in April 2014 in a lot of ways, but one noticeable difference is the lack of support by many politicians. 

“Well I think that folks realize that in a democracy like we have here in the U.S., violence is not the way to state your opinion," she said. "Violence is not the way to solve difficulties over public policy issues.”

But Goad believes lawmakers need to do more than just shy away from the controversy in Oregon. She pointed to a recent survey in High Country News that shows the number of times public employees have been assaulted or threatened. 

She said those kinds of actions need to be condemned.

"We would encourage any candidate for any political office to take a strong stance against that sort of rhetoric and those sorts of violent actions against public land employees," Goad said.

Guests

Jessica Goad, advocacy director, Center for Western Progress 

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