They are willing to “kill and be killed, if necessary,” or so the gun-toting militiamen in Oregon have insisted to reporters during their siege over the New Year weekend.
On Saturday evening, armed protesters seized a federal building in an Oregon wildlife reserve, taking a stand against jail time for Dwight and Steven Hammond, local ranchers who were convicted of setting fire to over a hundred acres, supposedly to cover up poaching on federal land, in 2001 and 2006. The Hammond father and son—who say they aren’t interested in help from the militia—claimed they set the fires in order to proof their land against wildfires. Now the non-local militiamen are intervening in what they claim is a case of the government unjustly punishing the ranchers.
On Sunday, the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack was trending worldwide. The armed group said that they are not holding hostages.
“We are using the wildlife refuge as a place for individuals across the United States to come and assist in helping the people of Harney County claim back their lands and resources,” Ammon Bundy, acting spokesman for the militia, announced in his rallying cry. Militia members claimed they had as many as 100 supporters with them but journalists on the scene say that number is overblown and in fact there are merely some six to 12 members of the so-called patriot group.
So who exactly is Ammon Bundy—besides one of the sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada cattle rancher who briefly became a Fox News phemonenon in 2014 when he led a rifle-brandishing showdown with the feds over a Bureau of Land Management dispute? (His subsequent racist-as-hell statement rendered him toxic for his onetime, mainstream Republican cheerleaders, including Fox’s Sean Hannity, and senators and presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.)
Like his father, the junior Bundy has a penchant for guns and for the militant vocabulary of state’s rights (even if Ammon himself is not from the state in question at the heart of this standoff).
“When a very small group of elitists use the peoples [sic] power without authority, and are willing to destroy the lives of those who disagree or stand up to them, when this type of unlimited power is commonly exercised without checks and balances the people are in danger,” he wrote for Infowars, the website of America’s leading conspiracy-nut Alex Jones, in November 2014.
Even as their dad’s anti-government star has faded, the Bundy boys, including Ammon and his brother Ryan, are now taking up the Hammond affair as their cause célèbre.
Attempts to reach Ammon Bundy—who, as of press time, was still occupying the federal building in Oregon—were unsuccessful. The Daily Beast left a message for Cliven Bundy but he has not returned a request for comment.
According to public records, Ammon Bundy is a registered Republican with hunting licenses in the states of Arizona and Nevada. He has no extensive criminal history to speak of besides a few speeding tickets and traffic violations.
Bundy foreshadowed his militaristic intervention in a series of Facebook posts on Dec. 30, with updates about the Hammonds and a “call to action.”
“It is time!” Bundy wrote. “CALL TO ACTION: All able body [sic] men and women come to Burns, Oregon on or before January 2nd. Come prepared and be willing to stand.”
Meanwhile, the Hammonds, through their family lawyer, have explicitly stated that they do not want to be affiliated with Bundy and his ragtag militia.
“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family,” W. Alan Schroeder, the family’s lawyer, wrote to Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward.
Specific plans for law-enforcement intervention are unclear at the moment but Sheriff Ward said in a statement on Saturday night that “a collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution.”
“For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation,” Ward said.
Ward did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
As the siege continues, other right-wing militia members are responding to Ammon Bundy's call to action and driving to Oregon with supplies—to help fight what their self-appointed leader has called a “tool for tyranny.”