A militia protesting Bureau of Land Management land-use policies seized the headquarters of a remote Oregon wildlife refuge Saturday, prompting a slew of headlines and social media backlash.
Armed protesters occupied the remote and empty headquarters building of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and claimed that they will continue to do so for “years if necessary,” until federal authorities reform the laws they say BLM designed specifically to persecute them and drive them off their land. No reports of any casualties, clashes, hostages, or deaths have occurred.
A Sunday article by CBS News stated that the incident “sparks debate on meaning of ‘terrorist’” had alleged that the militia had “frequently been accused of taking on racist beliefs or practices.” Another Sunday article in The Washington Post ran a headline asking “Why aren’t we calling the Oregon occupiers ‘terrorists?”
Prominent left-wing Twitter personalities promptly began comparing protesters to the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, using the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack.
Other Twitter users mocked the National Rifle Association and speculated that the protesters would have been treated much more harshly if they were African American.
The protesters state that they fear federal officials are unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The BLM and other federal agencies own and regulate large portions of Western states like Oregon and Nevada.
The protest was sparked by the imprisonment of Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of setting fire to public land to prevent the spread of invasive plants next to their ranch in 2012.
Dwight Hammond was sentenced to three years in prison and Steven was sentenced to 11 months, which the judge, Michael Hogan, called “grossly disproportionate” and said would “shock his conscience.” The Department of Justice got the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Judge Hogan’s decision and ordered the Hammonds to return to jail for longer sentences, despite the fact that both Hammonds have already served prison sentences for their crimes. They are supposed to do so Monday, where they will face additional five and four year prison terms, respectively.
The militia is allegedly led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy. Cliven Bundy became famous in 2014 for an armed standoff in Nevada with the Bureau of Land Management over changes to cattle grazing rules. The Bureau of Land Management ultimately backed down to Bundy.
“We are not terrorists,” Ammon Bundy told CNN. “We are concerned citizens and realize we have to act if we want to pass along anything to our children.”
The Oregonian interviewed local residents who expressed sympathy for the Hammonds and for the militia’s “constitutional arguments,” but believed that the militia was too extreme. The Hammonds declined an interview request from The Oregonian and did not respond to written questions about the protests.
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