BURNS, Ore. (AP) — An armed group is occupying a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and asking supporters around the country to join them.
They came to contest a judge’s order sending two ranchers back to prison for setting fires on federal land, but they ultimately hope to turn over the property to local authorities so people can use it free of U.S. oversight.
Here’s an overview of the takeover in remote Oregon:
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HOW DID THIS SITUATION BEGIN?
Tension has been building for weeks in the eastern Oregon over the case of Dwight and Steven Hammond. Dwight Hammond, 73, and son Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.
The two were convicted three years ago and served time — the father, three months; the son, one year. But in October, a federal judge in Oregon ruled their terms were too short under U.S. law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.
WHO IS LEADING THE PROTESTERS?
The most vocal groups are from outside the area near the tiny town of Burns. Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights, is among those organizing the opposition at the wildlife refuge.
Ammon Bundy and supporters from other states arrived last month in Burns, some 60 miles from the Hammond ranch. Ammon Bundy has criticized the U.S. government for what he called a failed legal process.
OUTSIDERS NOT WELCOMED BY SOME IN OREGON
Many locals have told the outside groups to stay away, concerned their presence could lead to violence. The Hammonds also have rebuffed the Bundy’s support.
“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family,” the Hammonds’ lawyer, W. Alan Schroeder, wrote to Sheriff David Ward. Dwight Hammond has said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison Monday as ordered by the judge.
“We gave our word that’s what we would do, and we intend to act on it,” he told The Associated Press last week.
WHAT ARE AUTHORITIES DOING?
The FBI said it is the agency in charge, working with local and state authorities to “bring a peaceful resolution to the situation.” It said it would not release details about the law enforcement response to ensure the safety of officers and those at the refuge.
But the government’s tactic generally is to monitor protesters from afar but leave them be as long as they don’t show signs of violence.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward has told people to stay away from the area.
WHERE IS THE WILDLIFE REFUGE?
The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is about 30 miles south of Burns in in the high desert of eastern Oregon. The area is very remote, about 280 miles southeast of Portland.