The group of self-declared patriots who currently occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Burns, Oregon, says they are defending their God-given entitlement to exploit trees, minerals, and clean water on native and federal lands. They are led by 40-year-old Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, whose family has been grazing cattle on federal land for 150 years and disputing the payment of land use fees for decades.
Art Roderick is a former US marshal who shot Randy Weaver’s dog during the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident, which gave rise to the modern militia movement in the US and radicalized Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Now Roderick is paid by CNN to analyze the very movement he helped foment.
On Sunday, when asked by CNN host Brian Stetler why the “terrorists” in Oregon weren’t being dealt with as forcibly by law enforcement as #BlackLivesMatter or peaceful Muslim protesters, Roderick said: “This is a very rural area, it’s out in the middle of nowhere. What are they actually doing? They’re not destroying property, they’re not shooting anything.”
Members of the Paiute tribe would disagree. Earth First Journal and Indian Country News report that this occupation of federal property is actually an effort to take the tiny bit of Paiute land left in their control, give it to mining and ranching interests, and destroy native property for financial gain.
The tribe’s federal trust land shrunk from more than one and a half million acres to a tiny remnant of 760 acres.
Roderick said the group of up to 150 armed men who have occupied a federal building needed to be dealt with on an “administrative level” and believed the federal government would resolve it peacefully.
This is in stark contrast to New York police response at a recent #BlackLivesMatter solidarity protest, which was described as “extremely iron-fisted,” with several arrests of unarmed activists.
The militia led by Ammon Bundy took over the federal building to protest the jailing of Dwight and Steven Hammond, local ranchers convicted of terrorism for setting fires that spread to government-owned land in 2001 and 2006.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Ammon’s father, enlisted the militia in 2014 in his dispute with the authorities, after contesting the federal government’s claims to grazing fees on land that his family has ranched since the 1870s, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management eventually gave up on rounding up Bundy’s cattle, after a tense standoff with armed men dubbed that Nevada Senator Harry Reid, then leader of the Democratic majority, called “domestic terrorists.”
The liberal watchdog Media Matters said that two of Bundy’s biggest cheerleaders in the right-wing media, Sean Hannity and Fox News, had “vested corporate, financial, and political interests in the promotion of Cliven Bundy’s anti-government land ownership agenda”.
One of the militiamen in Oregon, according to The Oregonian newspaper, is US Army veteran Ryan Payne. During the Bundy ranch stand-off in 2014, Payne claimed that he helped organize snipers to target federal agents and said they would be killed if “they made the wrong move”.
He reportedly has been in Burns, Oregon for the past month, “questioning people who were critical of the militia’s presence” with a holstered gun at his side as he moved around the community.
Authorities in Harney County, Oregon are taking the situation seriously. On Monday, they announced that the schools will be closed for the week, citing safety concerns.