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Anti-Government Activists Take Over Federal Refuge in Oregon

This weekend, a group of armed anti-government activists calling themselves “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom,” began their occupation of the Mal­heur Na­tion­al Wild­life Refuge in rural Oregon.

Law enforcement officials have approached the situation cautiously, with local agencies taking the lead with assistance from the FBI, and parties are seeking a “peaceful resolution” to the standoff.

The armed group, led by Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, said the armed takeover of the wildlife refuge was in response to “cruel and unusual punishment” from the federal government.

Last summer Cliven Bundy won a victory over the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) when hundreds of armed militia members rallied on his property to prevent the government from rounding up his cattle who the government said were illegally grazing on federal land and serving as payment in over $1 million in grazing fees the government says Bundy owes.

“When the federal government was stopped from enforcing the law at gunpoint that energized this entire movement,” Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was quoted as saying in The Washington Post.

A report released this week by the SPLC found that the number of anti-militia groups in the country grew from 202 groups in 2014 to 276 groups in 2015. Only 149 of such groups existed in 2008, at the time of President Obama’s election.

“Anti-government extremists have been itching for a confrontation with the federal government,” in the Pacific Northwest, said Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, in the same Washington Post piece.

At the time being, law enforcement officials continue to maintain their distance from the occupiers, although media reports are suggesting that charges and warrants for several of those involved in the occupation are in process of being issued.

Such an action would please the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), whose National President Nathan Catura said in a statement released on Monday that “the illegal takeover of any federal property is a criminal act and all those involved should be arrested and federally prosecuted.”

Aside from the standoff, the issue which caused the entire furor, a sentence from a judge that Dwight and Steven Hammond had to serve five-year sentences for setting fires in 2001 and 2006 that burned Interior Department lands, appears to be drawing increasing support to criminal justice reforms centered in part around changing mandatory minimum sentences.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), a lawmaker who represents the district which contains the wildlife refuge, told National Journal in an interview that “the Ham­mond case il­lus­trates the un­fair­ness of some of these man­dat­ory min­im­um sen­tences, and the prob­lems that oc­cur when you re­move ju­di­cial dis­cre­tion from the sys­tem of justice.”

 

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