by Will Sandberg
The Oregon standoff continues into its second week, and there is a lot of misinformation being churned out by main stream media, blogs, and the key players themselves. The following information is a breakdown of the "apparent" facts regarding the situation.
An armed group calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, headed by Ammon Bundy, and guesstimated to be around two dozen members in strength, took over federally owned buildings at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Oregon on Jan. 2.
Why it happened?
According to various news sources, two local ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond, were previously convicted of arson that damaged federal property. The father and son served abbreviated sentences, but after appeals by the prosecution, were ordered to return to prison in accordance with mandatory minimum sentencing.
The case spurred local, peaceful protests, breaking out in support of the ranchers. The case itself is just one instance in an ongoing shoving match between the federal government, who owns considerable portions (sometimes a majority percentage) of land in western states, and the private citizens who work the land for their income.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) works with ranchers, loggers, and miners through contracts that allow the private citizens and organizations to lease portions of the property. As part of the agreement, the citizens are required to work under often changing and unrealistic terms of the land use by any number of federal agencies regarding water and environmental conservation issues. BLM is is the "man in the middle" tasked with managing the laws and policies put into effect.
In the Hammond’s case, the federal government wouldn't renew some of the their previous grazing allotments and increased the lease fees for other tracts of land. Additionally, they were restricted from accessing water sources for their cattle. Issues like these have led to repeated legal confrontations between the federal government and the Hammond family over the years.
As the sun set on the local, peaceful protests for the most recent appeal ruling, most of the protestors went home. However a small, armed group, some local and others from out of state, led by Ammon Bundy, decided to stay by breaking in and occupying a federal government building.
The anti-federalist group say they will continue their occupation until federal restrictions are lifted on land use or there is a plan in place to turn over federal lands to the locals.
Who are the key players?
The leader of the armed group is Ammon Bundy, a son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who gained national attention in 2014 during a standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and protestors, many armed, supporting the Bundys over federal land use for cattle grazing. The BLM was ordered by a Federal Judge to begin confiscating Bundy’s cattle, many were feral and diseased, after he refused to observe federal restrictions for land use, as well as refusing to pay over $1 million in owed fees (this case has been ongoing for well over a decade). The standoff ended with the BLM backing down and Bundy’s cattle being released.
Dwight and Steve Hammond, the father/son ranchers who were ordered back to prison, went without a fight into custody to carryout their sentences. They have made an obvious public effort to distance themselves from the actions of Bundy’s group. Yet, while they are physically removed from the ongoing situation, the Hammonds play a central role.
The Hammonds have had a long, controversial and confrontational relationship with the Federal Government for decades. In the 1990’s, Steve was convicted for harassing licensed hunters who were well within federal property boundaries. Dwight was accused of impeding attempts to build a fence that would keep cattle out of migratory bird habitat. On several instances they were accused or charged with starting fires on the federal land as well. The accounts of each instance vary, and the reasoning goes from understandably excusable to malicious. In one instance the Hammonds claimed they started fires ahead of a larger natural burn to create buffer strips to save their winter range. Others have accused them of setting fires to destroy evidence of illegal deer poaching. Some of the fires are said to have put lives in danger.
The local community has been very supportive of the Hammonds in news interviews, calling them generous and good people.
The two men were eventually indicted in 2010 on federal arson charges and were sentenced under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The fact that cattle ranchers were charged under legislation that arose from the Oklahoma City terror bombing that killed and injured over 800 innocent people didn’t sit well with many private citizens that felt this was an attempt by the Federal Government to intimidate into passivity those in similar contention over land use.
The U.S. District Judge gave them light sentences, saying it would be cruel and unusual punishment to give them any more, considering they were sentenced under an act that was aimed at punishing terrorists. Dwight received three months, and Steve got a year.
Oregon’s Attorney General and a Federal Prosecutor filed an appeal, claiming the sentences were unlawful on the grounds of mandatory minimum sentencing. The appeal won, and the Hammonds were ordered to fulfill their five year sentences.
This restoked the allegations of citizens that felt the Federal Government was trying to intimidate and silence those ranchers, miners, and loggers that were having similar differences with the Federal Government by making an example out of the Hammonds. Protests resulted, then escalated into the current armed standoff.
Harney County Sheriff David Ward has taken a very visible role in attempting to defuse the situation, although his tactics seem to revolve around drawing as much mainstream media and social media attention as possible to win public support, according to the Los Angeles Times. The sheriff appears to be trying to sell the image that the entire community is united in opposition to the militia group, although the locals that support the militia group and the harassment he is reportedly receiving suggests a different reality. Sheriff Ward, an Army veteran with unspecified tours to Afghanistan and Somalia, has been working directly with federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as the occupiers themselves. Ward was appointed sheriff, rather than elected, when the previous sheriff, David Glerup, retired before the end of his term. Ward was sworn into office exactly one year before the standoff began, and will be seeking to hold the sheriff position in this year’s election.
Brian Cavalier, 44, is the bodyguard, current right-hand-man of Ammon Bundy, and head of security for the occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Cavalier is heavily tattooed with a large round belly. He made claims that he was a Marine combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, but those claims were denied by the Marine Corps following an investigation by the Daily Mail. As it turns out, he is nothing more than a tattoo artist with multiple DUI arrests, among other offenses. Cavalier also played a similar role in the 2014 standoff at the Bundy ranch in Nevada.
The situation continues to slowly develop, and Bundy has claimed that the standoff will take several months at a minimum to be resolved. Not wanting to recreate another Ruby Ridge or Waco massacre, the Federal Government is also not pushing for a quick outcome, at least not noticeably.
The group did say they will reveal their exit plan on Friday during a community meeting in the town of Burns.
The armed group, through Carol Bundy, Ammon Bundy's mother, has called for supplies from supporters to include bedding, socks, toiletries, and food.
On Saturday, a separate militia organization, calling themselves Pacific Patriot Network, showed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 18 vehicles, carrying firearms and wearing body armor. According to the report, the newly arrived group was given thanks by Bundy’s group, but were sent back on their way. It’s unclear as to why the group wasn’t accepted, but possible reasons include the supply shortage, not wanting to further escalate the situation, or possible mistrust on account of a suspected infiltration by a law enforcement group posing as a militia.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said that law enforcement and employees for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are being harassed in the area, and that the number of vandalism and intimidation reports are on the rise. According to Ward, people are being followed to and from their homes as well as being approached and confronted in public regarding the standoff. Ward even claimed that his wife’s tires were slashed.
The sheriff also said that protestors, representing both sides, continue to arrive to take a public stance on the situation.
So who’s right and who’s wrong?
Anyone capable of even minor critical thinking could identify supportable arguments from all sides involved in the dispute. The Federal Government has gotten to be a bloated, intrusive, and overbearing entity. Yet the land does need to be protected from the large corporations that will potentially abuse the land that is owned by all US citizens.
There is no way a federal agency knows how to run a beef, logging, or mining operation, which is essential to the USA, yet the land is owned by "we the people" and needs to be managed in such a way that appeases the tax payer and businesses. So it’s far from a black or white issue.
While the Constitution and her Amendments state that we can bear arms in the face of tyranny, Article IV, Section III of that same document clearly says that Congress makes its own rules and regulations regarding U.S. property. Yet, one could counter that argument by suggesting that these regulations are inhibiting citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Debate concerning the interpretations of our founding documents have taken place since they were written and will continue to do so until they are abandoned or conquered.
Looking back at the key players discussed in this article, who is most justified in their actions?
The Hammonds are well established and respected members of their community. The government is contracting land to them so they can run their cattle business, but if they were to actually adhere to the required stipulations, they might not be able to sustain it. The cattle need water, and to rotate grazing areas. The government is willing to sell them something, but they argue they can’t actually use it how they would need to for it to be functional. Also, the beef these ranchers produce stock the shelves of our grocery stores and feed the families of our nation, so one can sympathize with the Hammond family.
On the other hand, the Hammonds clearly feel they are more entitled than others to the land, simply because they have property adjacent to it. This is evidenced by the time Steve was convicted of harassing hunters that were using the federal property. Just as the Hammonds leased the land for pasture rights, the hunters paid their fees to extract natural resources from it. What gives the Hammond family the authority to say what others can and can’t do on property that doesn’t belong to them? One can understand why the Hammonds have found themselves in hot water.
Additionally, if there were zero regulations in place or they were not enforced, these areas would become resource-depleted wastelands because of near-sighted, greedy individuals and corporations trying to squeeze out every last penny without a care for the repercussions. The land would be overturned from strip mining for minerals. The plants would become overgrazed or outcompeted by invasive species. The wild game animals would be over hunted to the point of extinction, and the water would be inhospitably polluted. It’s not hard to see why these regulations are in place, especially for a swath of land categorized as a refuge.
The militia group, led by Ammon Bundy, deserves acknowledgement. They are standing up for what they think is right against an incredibly powerful entity that could certainly have them all killed within the first 30 seconds of a direct action raid, and they know it. The men who founded our country faced similar odds, at first. You may not agree with one’s ideals, but a certain level of respect is always given to those that fight for what they believe in.
Yet, Sheriff Ward, the man who wants Bundy gone and reviles this supposed “patriot” group is, himself, a true patriot. As previously mentioned, he is an Army veteran with tours to Afghanistan and Somalia. He continues to serve his community to this day. Faced with an armed group from out-of-state, whose head of security is a valor fraud with an extensive rap sheet… one can easily identify with Sheriff Ward.
So, unless your monolithic political views or rigid brand of chosen news already told you what side to take, this standoff actually raises more questions than answers, while highlighting considerable gray areas concerning federal, state, and private rights. Why does the Federal Government continue to own so much unused land in western states? How are mandatory minimum sentences not considered cruel and unusual punishment in some cases?
Obviously, the Second Amendment is at the forefront of this entire altercation. Although this current situation in Oregon has yet to be resolved, the 2014 standoff in Nevada between the BLM and Bundy supporters demonstrated the true effective power and purpose of that natural born right, regardless of which side you supported.
The Second Amendment isn’t about shooting squirrels for sustenance. It isn’t about sport shooting targets for fun. It’s not even about confronting burglars, although it’s a great asset to have in that situation. Sure, the government could have killed everybody at the Nevada standoff, but what then? What message would that send to the people that weren’t even in support of the dissenters? They may respect you out of fear, but behind the scenes they would be putting into motion plans to replace you.
We have this right to bear arms in order to protect ourselves from oppression and tyranny originating from both outside and within our borders. Not all causes and calls to arms are equal in righteousness. In the end, it may come down to the will and tenacity of the of the people to decide their collective fate concerning the balance of power between them and their governing body.