FBI officials tried to calm the anger in Oregon by calling for a “peaceful resolution” to the standoff at a national wildlife refuge that dragged on for a third day Monday.
Still, the bureau did not give any specifics about its response in a statement Sunday, citing “safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved.”
Armed protesters, who police say are coming from outside the area, took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally over the prison sentences of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires that burned on federal land in 2001 and 2006. Though they served their original sentences for the conviction — Dwight serving three months, Steven serving one year — an appellate judge ruled in October that the terms were too short under federal minimum sentencing laws.
Both men were ordered back to prison for four years each. They have said they plan to turn themselves in Monday.
Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy are among those occupying the refuge. Their father, Cliven Bundy, was involved in a 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights in Nevada.
“The end goal here is that we are here to restore the rights to the people here so that they can use the land and resources. All of them,” Ryan Bundy said. That means ranchers can graze their cattle on the land, miners can use their mineral rights, loggers can cut trees and hunters and fishers can recreate, he added.
Ryan Bundy said they planned on staying at the refuge as long as it takes. If the situation turns violent, he contends it will be because of the federal government’s actions. “I mean, we’re here to restore order, we’re here to restore rights and that can go peacefully and easily.”
Ammon Bundy said if the government did use force to retake the refuge, “they would be putting lives at risk.”
Dwight Hammond Jr., 73, and his 46-year-old son, Steven, have claimed that they lit the fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. However, prosecutors said the fires were set to cover up poaching.
The decision generated controversy and is part of a decades-long dispute between some Westerners and the federal government over the use of public lands. The issue traces back to the 1970s and the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a move by Western states like Nevada to increase local control over federal land. Critics of the push for more local control have said the federal government should administer the public lands for the widest possible uses, including environmental and recreation.