Ore­gon stand­off per­sists

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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