Harney County Sheriff David Ward on Sunday afternoon said the group of militia members that took over an empty eastern Oregon wildlife refuge is trying to overthrow the local and federal governments.
In a letter, later posted on Twitter, Ward said that the men who came to Harney County are “claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranches, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.”
— Brent Weisberg (@BrentKOIN) January 3, 2016
“We are currently working jointly with several organizations to make sure the citizens of Harney County are safe and this issue is resolved as quickly and peaceful as possible,” the sheriff added.
He has asked the public to stay away from the refuge, The Oregonian is reporting.
The group, made up of 12 to 25 men, has said they plan to remain in the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge for “years,” and that it’s going to be a place for like-minded “patriots” to assemble.
When the out-of-town militia members initially showed up to support two local ranchers who were sentenced to prison for setting fires on federal lands, local residents supported them. But they quickly became suspicious of the groups, even posting signs around town reading “Militia Go Home.”
The seizure came after a peaceful protest of the conviction and jailing of Dwight Hammond and Steve Hammond, who lit fires to control invasive species on federal lands. A judge ordered additional jail time under strict new post-9/11 laws. The Hammonds said they will report to prison on Monday.
Amman Bundy, one of Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy’s sons who clashed with the government over grazing rights, is one of the “occupiers,” along with two of his brothers.
“We pose no threat to anybody,” Bundy said when asked how he and demonstrators would respond to law enforcement officials attempting to them. “There’s no person that is physically harmed by what we’re doing.”
“If they come to bring physical harm to us, they will be doing it because of a facility or a building. I don’t believe that warrants killing people,” Bundy added.