The standoff between US authorities and the armed group of militiamen who have illegally occupied a US federal wildlife reserve since January 2, 2016 seems to be reaching a boiling point. On Thursday, Jan. 28th, the FBI released a 26 minute video of an altercation between the armed group and federal officers, which resulted in the death of one militia member and non-fatal wounds to another.
As US law enforcement officials begin ramping up security measures, let’s take a look at a few of the most important facts and controversies surrounding the Oregon Militia Standoff.
#1 This all started with a peaceful protest
On January 2, 2016 an armed group of a few dozen militiamen took control of the main building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Oregon. The group is composed of various rump militias who separated from a peaceful protest held earlier that day. The gathering was meant to oppose the legal rulings for ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond, who were convicted of arson on federal land and sentenced to five years in prison. The two ranchers set fire to approximately 150 acres of public land and is representative of a protracted disagreement over grazing rights between ranchers and the US government.
#2 Demands and reasons for the Oregon Standoff
The group is headed by Ammon Bundy. A car fleet manager from Phoenix, Arizona, Bundy is quoted as having begun to lead the standoff after a divine message from God told him to. The group has demanded that the federal government cede ownership of the wildlife refuge.
#3 There is little public support for the Oregon Militia
Although many residents in the community outside of the refuge support the group’s cause, meaning that they are glad that the standoff has given local discussions over land rights and usage a national spotlight, they disagree with their tactics. Earlier this month, at a community meeting on the confrontation, a local Sheriff asked residents if they wanted the armed occupiers to leave Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, almost every hand in the room went up.
Likewise, the Oregon Cattleman’s Association has been quoted as saying that they do “not support illegal activity taken against the government. This includes militia takeover of government property, such as the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.” The Paiute Tribe, a local group of Native Americans living on a reservation near the Wildlife Refuge, have called for an end of the occupation of their “ancestral land”, noting that the Wildlife Refuge is built on land that belonged to the tribe before it was taken by the US government in the 1800s.
#4 The fiasco is slowing coming to an end
As of today, there are only 4 remaining militia men occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Last week a group of 6 were stopped in a police checkpoint a few miles away from the refuge. This group engaged the authorities in a firefight where one protester was killed, another wounded, and the others arrested and taken to jail.
After the confrontation, the group leader, Ammon Bundy, has been pleading with the remaining protesters to end the standoff and go home.
In an audio recording, copied from a phone call from jail and made public by the Oregon Public Broadcasting, Bundy is heard saying, “All those at the refuge, please stand down. This was never meant to be an armed standoff. Please do not make it about something it wasn’t supposed to be. Go home to your families.”