Oregon Wildlife Refuge Occupation: What Do These Lunatics Want/Believe?

Over the holiday weekend, a group of self-described “patriots” took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Approximately 100-150 armed militia members, led by three sons of Cliven Bundy, have declared that they are willing to stay there for years, and that they are willing to “kill or be killed” in order to protect what they believe are their constitutional rights.

In case you were wondering what that shit is all about, here’s a quick review!

What are they mad about?

Back in 2013, Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted on federal charges of arson after setting fire to 139 acres of federal land in order to cover up evidence of out-of-season hunting–thereby endangering the lives of firefighters and one teenage male relative. This happened on two occasions, once in 2001 and another time in 2006.

While the minimum sentence for this crime is 5 years, the judge in the case, Judge Michael Hogan, gave them a much lighter sentences–Dwight 3 months, Steven, 12 months–in light of his sympathy for their cause.

However, a federal appeals court has reversed Hogan’s ruling, and has declared that the Hammonds must return to prison in order to serve out the rest of their sentences. Their sentences will start today, January 4th.

Who the hell are they?

Three of the leaders, as previously mentioned, are the sons of Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy–Ammond, Ryan and Mel.

Then there is Jon Ritzheimer, who is perhaps best known for organizing armed protests against mosques and Muslim people. Before the occupation began, Ritzheimer posted a video to YouTube that was something of a goodbye letter to his friends and family, indicating that he suspected he might die during this occupation.

Joining them is Ryan Payne, a dude who thinks slavery never happened and in fact is part of a “Jewish conspiracy” somehow related to maintaining control of the world. Because of course he does.

The Hammond family has and wants no involvement in any of this.

What the hell do they want?

This is all sorts of complicated. In addition to releasing the Hammonds, they also want the federal government to relinquish control of the federal land they are occupying.

The Bundys and the militia members occupying the wildlife refuge believe that the government is constitutionally prohibited from owning land, and that the land it owns in Oregon and elsewhere should just be divvied up (somehow!) among the ranchers, miners, and loggers who would like to own it themselves.

This, of course, is not true.

Cliven Bundy, when holding his own standoff back in 2014, said that he based this belief off of the part of the constitution that states “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States”

Bundy’s interpretation of this is that the United States can only own property in “territories” and that once a territory becomes a state, they must “dispose” of said property and let people claim it for themselves. Again, that’s not even sort of what that part of the constitution says, but it’s how they’re interpreting it.

One thing you may recall from the Bundy standoff is that Cliven Bundy believed that the only person with any legal authority anywhere is a County Sheriff–his sons share this view. They do not believe the federal government has a right to enforce laws of any kind.

What are they planning?

Ammon Bundy says the group is prepared to occupy the refuge for years, and is encouraging armed citizens to travel to Oregon to join him, and–I guess–create some kind of new Wild West utopian society.

Ryan Bundy says they’re willing to kill and be killed “if necessary.”

Can they actually, legally do this?

Not exactly. Of course they can protest, but an armed occupation of federal land is kind of a different thing. Also, it’s pretty unlikely that the government is going to go “Oh! Sure! You want that land? For free? Go ahead! It’s yours! Enjoy!” because that is not at all how anything works.

Given that Ryan Bundy has stated that they will use deadly force against anyone trying to get them to leave, it is not likely that tactic will end well if deployed. It’s likely that the group is actually hoping for some kind of Ruby Ridge or Waco-type standoff with the government, in hopes of rallying supporters to their cause.

[Wonkette 1]
[Wonkette 2]
[Oregon Live]
[Vox]
[ThinkProgress]