'Oregon Under Attack' Standoff Explained: Why An Armed Militia Has Occupied A Wildlife Refuge

What is going on?

Late on Saturday evening, a group of heavily armed men calling themselves the "the point of the spear" stormed and captured a remote, wildlife refuge near to the town of Burns, Oregon, in order to take a stand against the “tyranny” of the US government.

The militants, who say they are willing to "kill or be killed," have demanded the government release a pair of Oregon ranchers convicted of arson and relinquish control of federally owned land in favour of local ownership. Around 12 people are reported to be involved in the action, though the militants claim their number is closer to 100.

BREAKING! SHARE! Standing for the rights of Men & Women. Calling all freedom loving people to come to Harney County...

Posted by Bundy Ranch on Saturday, 2 January 2016

Why is it happening?

The militants are aggrieved at the sentences dished out to Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steve, 43, who were convicted of setting fires on government-owned land. The first fire, set to mask the illegal poaching of deer in 2001, led to the burning of more than 130 acres. The second, in 2006, was to protect against an approaching wildfire.

The father and son were tried under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which includes a five-year minimum mandatory sentence for arson on federal land. The judge presiding over the trial deemed a 5-year sentence too stiff, and gave them a lighter judgment. However, the US attorney appealed and after a second trial late last year the Hammonds received the full 5 years, a sentence the pair are due to start this week.

The sentencing inflamed the paranoia of nearby anti-government militiamen, many of who were involved in the armed standoff between Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014, which escalated after a dispute over grazing fees for cattle that roamed on federal land in Nevada.

Who is involved?

Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon, who posted a video to Facebook revealing the group had taken over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, is leading the Oregon standoff. "This will become a base place for patriots from all over the country to come and be housed here and to live here," he said. "And we're planning on staying here for several years." He also called on fellow “patriots” to "bring your arms" and join the group.

Speaking to a local newspaper, Cliven’s other son Ryan, who is also involved, said: “The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area... will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control. What we're doing is not rebellious. What we're doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land."

What has been the reaction?

Local law enforcement are so far handling the incident. Since tSaturday evening, “OregonUnderAttack” has been trending across social media, with many users commenting on a supposed paucity of media coverage afforded the occupation. Others have speculated that the response would be somewhat different were it a group of non-white militants taking over federal property.

The media has since caught up with the story, which is running high on newspapers in the US and around the world. On the suggestion that the incident is being treated as a local dispute rather than a terrorist incident because of the race of the militants, there is some basis to this. As John Haltiwanger points out:

Is this a new threat?

No. Research conducted with American police in 2015 revealed that the main terrorist threat in the United States is not violent Muslim extremists, but right-wing extremists. Last year, a man claiming to be part of the anti-government sovereign citizen movement attacked a courthouse in Georgia, throwing tear gas and smoke grenades before firing on police officers.

In Nevada, two officers were shot by anti-government extremists who placed a “Don’t tread on me” flag on their bodies, while a militant in Pennsylvania shot two state troopers, killing one of them.