Oregon standoff persists
A pickup truck blocked the entrance Tuesday to a national wildlife preserve where a small armed group upset over federal land policy has occupied the frozen swath of remote Oregon since the weekend.
From a watchtower, a member of the group looked out over the snowy grounds. The activists who came to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were bundled in camouflage, ear muffs and cowboy hats in the bleak, high desert of eastern Oregon where they seemed more likely to encounter wildlife than people. That may be a key reason why law enforcement has not taken action against the group of about two dozen activists opposing the imprisonment of father-and-son ranchers who set fire to federal land.
“These guys are out in the middle of nowhere, and they haven’t threatened anybody that I know of,” said Jim Glennon, a longtime police commander who now owns the Illinoisbased law enforcement training organization Calibre Press. “There’s no hurry. If there’s not an immediate threat to anyone’s life, why create a situation where there would be?”
No one had been hurt and no one was being held hostage. The takeover puts federal officials in a delicate position of deciding whether to confront the occupiers, risking bloodshed, or stand back and possibly embolden others to directly confront the government.
Many observers complained, suggesting the government’s response would have been swifter and more severe had the occupants been Muslim or other minorities.
“There seems to be somewhat of a reluctance to think white people are as dangerous as people of colour,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
The activists seized the refuge about 300 miles from Portland on Saturday night as part of a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.
They said they want an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land after Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, reported back to prison Monday.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, one of which was set to cover up deer poaching, according to prosecutors. The men served no more than a year until an appeals court judge ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.
Their sentences were a rallying cry for the group calling itself Citizens for constitutional Freedom, whose mostly male members said they want federal lands turned over to local authorities so people can use them free of U.S. oversight.