Self-described “patriots,” members of a militia that is not exactly “well-regulated” (as the Second Amendment requires), occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on January 2 for two stated reasons. They intended to keep Steven and Dwight Hammond from serving the minimum lawful sentence for arson on public land and to protect the citizens of Oregon from the tyranny of the federal government. They have now gotten some results.
First, Steven and Dwight Hammond released a statement through their family lawyer disavowing the support of the militia. Then they turned themselves in to serve their sentences, as required by the terms of their bonds. Dwight Hammond told the Associated Press that was going to happen and now it has.
Second, the descendants of the aboriginal owners of the dirt upon which the Malheur Wildlife Refuge sits (formerly the Malheur Indian Reservation)have held a press conference. It should be noted that if, as the militia claims, the land is not federal, then it is tribal. It’s unclear how the state could have a claim at all since the land belonged to the Paiutes, then was in federal trust for the Paiutes, and then the use of the land was designated as wildlife refuge when most of the Paiutes were removed to Washington Territory.
Those Paiutes who did not move still live on the Burns Paiute Reservation. On January 6, the Burns Paiute Tribal Council called a press conference.
Tribal Chair Charlotte Rodrique accused the militia of endangering Paiute sacred sites when they threaten a firefight on that real estate. In response to the militia men’s claim that they came armed to return the land to its rightful owners, she commented, “I’m sitting here trying to write an acceptance letter for when they return all this land to us.” (She was laughing when she said it.)
The Tribal Council added that the staff of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge have been good partners in preservation of Paiute cultural sites. Rodrique told OPB FM, “This is our land, no matter who is living on it.”
Council Member Jarvis Kennedy asked, “What if it was a bunch of Natives that went out there and overtook that? Would they let us come into town and get supplies?”
Speaking of supplies, militia leader Ammon Bundy claimed on a YouTube video that they were prepared to “be staying for several years.” The men have also asked on Facebook for supporters to bring them “snacks and energy drinks.” Apparently, they do not intend to subsist for years on small game and ramen noodles.
Video on MSNBC on January 5 showed that militia members were repositioning heavy construction equipment, to which they said they found the keys, “for defensive purposes.”
Burns public schools have been closed since the standoff out of concern for student safety if gunfire should erupt in or near the small town.
Finally, Harney County Sheriff David Ward—whose authority the militia claims to respect—released a press statement reading in part:
I want to directly address the people at the wildlife refuge: You said you were here to help the citizens of Harney County. The help ended when a peaceful protest became an armed and unlawful protest.
The Hammonds have turned themselves in. It is time for you to leave our community. Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully.
Note that this report sets out three events since the mostly out of state militia members, led by Nevadans, came to Oregon for an armed confrontation with the federal government. The news comes from two Oregon ranchers, a tribal government situated in Oregon, and an Oregon County Sheriff. The sum total of involvement by the “tyrannical” federal government was when the U.S. Marshals accepted the promised surrender of the Hammonds.
The militia came to Oregon expecting to announce sic semper tyrannis but quickly became persona non grata.