When the tense standoff between federal agents and a group of right-wing extremists at Cliven Bundy’s ranch ended in a stalemate, it was only a matter of time before we heard from the emboldened “patriots” again. On January 2, they showed up unannounced – and unwelcome – in Oregon.
Towing with them a large arsenal of weapons and vowing to die in a shoot out if police or federal agents removed them, Cliven’s sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy seized a federal wildlife building and said they were prepared to stay there indefinitely until their demands – the unconditional surrender of the United States government and the ceding of federal land to ranchers like the Bundy family – are met. It’s clear that Ammon Bundy, the ringleader, wants to build an army. In a statement, he begged fellow anti-government patriots to “stand up and come to Harney County. We need your help and we are asking for it.”
And the Bundy family made no secret of the violence underlining the “protest.”
I talked to Ryan Bundy on the phone again. He said they're willing to kill and be killed if necessary. #OregonUnderAttack
— Ian Kullgren (@IanKullgren) January 3, 2016
While Ammon has framed the issue as one of freedom vs. tyranny, the real reason they showed up was to protect two Oregon ranchers, father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond. Like Cliven Bundy, the Hammonds had gotten used to abusing public lands to feed their livestock on and felt that it was now their “right” to do so.
Who are the Hammonds? Based on their actions: A pair of scumbags who were willing to destroy a large area of federally protected land just to protect themselves from being exposed as criminals.
In 2001, they purposely set a series of wildfires on government land in order to hide their poaching activities. The fires turned into a raging inferno that nearly killed a few local residents, destroyed 139 acres of public land and killed countless animals that were meant to be safe.
The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.”
These are the people Bundy’s armed militia group came to Oregon to defend. They would set a deadly wildfire to protect themselves and ruin the land for anyone else because “freedom.” If the definition of terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation to achieve a political goal, then let’s call this what it is: Terrorism.
Ironically, the Hammonds themselves want nothing to do with the standoff. Their lawyer disavowed the group from the start. The Hammonds are already facing jail sentences for their crimes. They’ve correctly guessed that adding “stoking an armed insurrection” would only keep them in jail longer.
From interviews Ammon Bundy has given while in Oregon, it’s clear that he has an idea of himself as a right-wing martyr. As such, he and his fellow group of anti-government terrorists are clearly willing to die for their cause. They’ve brought with them enough guns to see that they take down as many innocent people as they can before that happens.
So far, federal agencies and the Harney County Sheriff’s Department are taking a light approach the the occupation. Not keen to start another Waco, the authorities are trying to reason with the group rather than go in shooting. It remains to be seen whether a group that invaded a small wildlife reserve building while wearing camo fatigues and carrying rifles can be reasoned with.
Feature image via CBC screengrab