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Oregon Militants Use Federal Cars, Take Down Fences, But No Law Enforcement In Sight

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The armed individuals occupying part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon include Ryan Bundy. On Thursday, he had a gun and a tape measure on his side. Bundy is the son of Cliven Bundy, whose 2014 armed standoff with the federal Bureau of Land Management in in Nevada drew national attention.

The militants – many of them from Nevada – who took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge outside of Burns, Oregon on New Year’s weekend seem to be doing more than sitting around eating bon bons and polishing their weapons.

Earlier this week, a few of them took out 80 feet of fence that separated a private ranch from a part of the conservation area. They used U.S. Fish and Wildlife backhoes and other equipment to take the fence out.

There have also been reports of harassment of people who live in Burns – especially people who work for the refuge. The militants have apparently gained access to employees’ computers, and have found out information about them, including where they live.

Conrad Wilson has been reporting on this story from Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

"Things are kind of getting back to normal, in a way," Wilson told KNPR's State of Nevada, "Kids are back in school. People are still going out to dinner. They're going about town."

But Wilson said, there have been divisions in the community.

According to Wilson, some people support the ideas of the militia but still want them to leave and others who see the land as belonging to everyone and wondering why law enforcement hasn't gone in to end the takeover. 

"There are definitely folks who agree with the sentiment that the militants have," he said.

The whole thing started in connection with the Hammonds case. Dwight and his son, Steven, were sentenced to prison for arson that damaged federal land. Both men surrendered to authorities last week. 

But, the militia members see the sentence as government overreach. 

Ryan Bundy told KNPR's State of Nevada that the fires the Hammonds set are a common practice for ranchers clearing brush on their land.

Aside from the Hammonds, the militia also want the wildlife refuge land returned to local control.

However, Wilson said there are lot of people who don't want the land returned to local control, because they believe it is public land that is managed by the federal government.

"People cannot believe nothing is being done," he said, "They are very angry... this is public land. It is a bird sanctuary that is very popular in the spring and fall for birders who go and take tours. It is kind of everybody's land." 

Wilson said there is a community meeting scheduled for Thursday at the county fair grounds in Burns. 

"Apparently, Ammon Bundy is going to lay out what are the requirements that will lead to their departure from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,"  he said, "It is really hard to know what that will look like at this point."

The question remains if the militia members will be arrested after they leave the refuge.

"I think at this point it is sort of the focus for law enforcement is to end the occupation of the wildlife refuge, and further for there to be no bloodshed, no violence, no injuries either to the occupiers or to law enforcement and certainly not to folks in the community at large," Wilson said.

Conrad Wilson, Oregon Public Broadcasting

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)