Oregon militia standoff ends

In January, armed protesters took over the Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Oregon in response to fellow ranchers’ prison sentencing, but according to Vox this conflict started years earlier, which is why the consequences were so severe. The conflict rests on grazing rights and what the federal government and ranchers can agree upon is a fair division of land.

The standoff, which lasted 41 days, concluded on February 11, with the FBI and Oregon police arresting several people involved in the armed militia group and killing one rancher in a shootout.

This standoff has caused intense controversy, bringing up questions of race and whether or not this occupation would have been handled differently by police if the ranchers had been people of color. Police brutality towards people of color has been at the forefront of many Americans’ minds due to the many incidents of police violence and shootings in the past few years. Grace Taylor ’18 believes that “because these militiamen are white farmers, authorities feel ‘safer’ and less threatened by their invasion, solely based on their skin color and what that color represents.” Others argue that due to the rural location of the standoff, police protocol and tactics are different than that of larger cities.

According to The Oregonian, in 2012, ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven were convicted of arson for setting fire to federal property on two separate occasions in 2001 and 2006. A federal judge sentenced the father to three months in jail and the son to one year in prison. In 2015, an appeal court overturned the Hammonds’ original sentences, saying that retired U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan had illegally sentenced the father and son to terms below the five-year minimum. Federal Judge Stephen J. Murphy III issued a new five-year prison sentence to each man, with credit for the time served in their previous sentencing.

In December, several militants from western states began to gather in the small town of Burns, Oregon, to “protest the pending re-imprisonment of the Hammonds over what they describe as unjust federal policies,” according to the Oregonian.

In January, 300 protestors marched through Burns in support of the Hammonds. On January 2, a small armed division of this group split off and took over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Ammon Bundy, the son of a rancher, quickly became the leader of this armed militia. Bundy stated that “the group has no intention of violence unless the government acts against them.” The Burns-Paiute Tribe, who at one time occupied the refuge, demanded that the militants leave the area. Following this request, a nighttime fight broke out between the two groups.

On January 11, schools in the county reopened after being closed for one week due to the strife in the area. On this same day, the militants destroyed a large portion of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fence, claiming they had received permission from the rancher whose cattle graze on the private land adjoining the wildlife refuge. On January 15, authorities made their first occupation-related arrest; Kenneth Medenbach, 62, of Crescent, Oregon was “accused of having a stolen vehicle after authorities said he drove a government pickup to Burns.”

Governor Kate Brown of Oregon asked federal law enforcement officials for “swift resolution” to the occupation. After many negotiations between law enforcement and ranchers, Oregon FBI Special Agent Greg Bretzing said that the occupiers had “ample” time to leave peacefully and that law enforcement had taken a “very deliberate and measured response” to the standoff. On January 28, according to Fox News, the FBI released a video showing the shooting death of Robert Finicum in order to counter the claims that “he did nothing to provoke his killing.” In the aerial video, Finicum is shown pulled over in his truck before taking off in the vehicle. He then plows into a snowbank because of a roadblock. He gets out and has his hands up at first, but then, he appears to reach toward his jacket pocket at least twice. He is shot and falls to the snow. The FBI later discovered that he had a loaded handgun in his pocket. After this video was released, many occupiers began leaving the refuge, and after two days, all the ranchers had left.

The cost of the standoff to taxpayers will be at least $3.3 million, according to the Oregonian. Sixteen protesters have pleaded not guilty for their role in the occupation.

Photo: Occupiers stand near the entrance of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January. Photo credit: Rick Bowmer of the Associated Press.

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