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Militia members occupy US building in Oregon after protest

by The Associated Press | January 3, 2016 at 10:25 a.m.
Protesters march on Court Avenue in support of an Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson in Burns, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Family members were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each. (Les Zaitz/The Oregonian via AP) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO LOCAL INTERNET; THE MERCURY OUT; WILLAMETTE WEEK OUT; PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

BURNS, Ore. — A family previously involved in a showdown with the federal government has occupied a building at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and is asking militia members to join them.

Ammon Bundy — the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights — told The Oregonian on Saturday that he and two of his brothers were among a group of dozens of people occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The protest began as a rally in support of Oregon ranchers facing jail time for arson.

Ammon Bundy posted a video on his Facebook page asking for militia members to come help him. He said "this is not a time to stand down. It's a time to stand up and come to Harney County," where Burns is located. Below the video is this statement: "(asterisk)(asterisk)ALL PATRIOTS ITS TIME TO STAND UP NOT STAND DOWN!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! COME PREPARED."

In an interview with reporters late Saturday night that was posted on Facebook, Bundy said he and others are occupying the building because "the people have been abused long enough."

"I feel we are in a situation where if we do not do something, if we do not take a hard stand, we'll be in a position where we'll be no longer able to do so," he said.

Bundy said the group planned to stay at the refuge indefinitely. "We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely," Ammon Bundy said. "This is not a decision we've made at the last minute."

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward told people to stay away from the building as authorities work to defuse the situation, the Oregonian reported (http://is.gd/bK7d4E).

"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 in a statement.

An Idaho militia leader who helped organize the earlier march said he knew nothing about activities after a parade of militia members and local residents in Burns walked past the sheriff's office and the home of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven.

Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokesman in Portland, told The Associated Press the agency was aware of the situation at the national wildlife refuge. She made no further comment.

Some local residents feared the Saturday rally would involve more than speeches, flags and marching. But the only real additions to that list seemed to be songs, flowers and pennies.

As marchers reached the courthouse, they tossed hundreds of pennies at the locked door. Their message: civilians were buying back their government. After the march passed, two girls swooped in to scavenge the pennies.

A few blocks away, Hammond and his wife, Susan, greeted marchers, who planted flower bouquets in the snow. They sang some songs, Hammond said a few words, and the protesters marched back to their cars.

Dwight Hammond has said he and his son plan to peacefully report to prison Jan. 4 as ordered by the judge.

Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit the fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.

The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time — the father three months, the son one year. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.

The decision has generated controversy in a remote part of the state.

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