The dozen or so armed men who took possession of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon have been systematically shunned by the individuals, groups, institutions and town folk which they purportedly represent.
The Bundy’s occupation of federal property began with a rally in support of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. The father and son had been convicted of arson and were due to serve out the remainder of their minimum prison sentence.
A small band at the rally (“the Bundy Militia”) broke away at its conclusion, headed 30 miles south and occupied Malheur. While the occupation was a surprise to the people of Harney County, it was no secret that an action would occur.
Arizona native Ammon Bundy, the figurative leader of the militia, had injected himself into the Hammond case months before, interpreting it as a perversion of the Constitution and an example of government “taking over private property.” His “Call to Action” was on 27 November.
In the video, Bundy noted that the Hammond’s “didn’t have the strength or courage to stand for themselves,” yet insisted that militia from some 30 states travel to Burns to “protect” these individuals.
On 22 November, the Oath Keepers reprinted a letter from Ammon Bundy about the Hammond case. However, the group did not formally endorse the Bundy cause. (Oath Keepers are composed of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who pledge to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Its founder Stewart Rhodes is a former Army paratrooper, intern of Libertarian Ron Paul and Yale law school graduate.)
In December, Pete Santilli, a self-described “Patriot,” talk show host and agent provocateur, issued a “Patriot ALL CALL”. Santilli dubbed it Operation Hammond Ranch.
Opposition was in place well over a month before the Bundy militia took the Malheur bird santuary hostage.
Sheriff David Ward had stated his satisfaction with the wheels of justice in sentencing Dwight and Steven Hammond. The Oath Keepers had made no pledge to join the Bundy cause.
Individuals on social media were reacting negatively to Bundy’s plan to “defend” the Hammond’s. Over at Santilli’s YouTube show, a commentator (Sukkot Prepper) told the talk show jock that his Call to Action was not needed or welcomed.
The Hammonds don’t want your help. Back off! You are making the rest of us look like armed pirates. Screw your green lighted call to arms. The Hammonds don’t want your help and neither does the community. Go where you are wanted. Back off bro. If you want to start a revolution you are wasting your time. If you get slaughtered it’s on you. They were convicted by a jury of peers and They do not want your help. Screw the “captains” who want to prove something.
In fact, it seemed the only ones pushing for the armed occupation were members of the Bundy family, a smattering of militia members, Rep. Andy Holt, a Republican state representative from Tennessee, and Pete Santilli, who would livestream the event for his talk show.
The Hammond’s made their opposition abundantly clear. According to KOIN6, a CBS affiliate out of Portland, their rebuff was clearly stated in a letter to Sheriff Ward. In the missive, W. Alan Schroeder, the lawyer representing the Hammond Family, stated the following:
Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family.
A similar sentiment was expressed by residents of Burns, Oregon on the day of the rally. Hand-written signs showed their displeasure with the armed outsiders.
On the second day of the occupation of Malheur, Sheriff Ward held a press conference. He directed his comments to the Bundy militia in straight forward and nonconfrontational language.
I want to directly address the people at the wildlife refuge: You said you were here to help the citizens of Harney County. That help ended when a peaceful protest became an armed and unlawful protest.
The Hammonds have turned themselves in. It is time for you to leave our community. Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully.
Stewart Rhodes of Oath Keepers put his opposition on record the day before the rally and occupation of Malheur. In written statements, press interviews and a video, Stewart explicitly rejected the “armed intervention” by the Bundy’s and explained that “if someone does not want your help, you cannot force yourself on them.” In his written statement, Rhodes told the militia community the following:
BECAUSE THE HAMMOND FAMILY DOES NOT WANT AN ARMED STAND OFF, AND THEY WISH TO TURN THEMSELVES IN, OATH KEEPERS WILL NOT TAKE PART IN ANY ATTEMPT TO CREATE A STAND OFF IN BURNS, OREGON. [All Caps in original]
Rhodes told his listeners to “stay out of it,” and derided the Bundy plans as an “armed stand-off being manufactured by potheads.”
Nonetheless, Ammon Bundy and his band occupied Malheur and continued its call-outs. They stocked the wildlife refuge with Coors beer, generators, potatoes and kitchen help. Bundy and his men took position in the Malheur watchtower, blocked its gate and held press conferences. Friends issued a call for “snacks” – a plea that earned wide derision on social media where the #Bundymilitia hashtag was already filled with sneering comments.
Politicians and candidates joined the rising revolt. Marco Rubio said, “You cannot be lawless.”
Ted Cruz told the Bundy militia to “Stand down.”
A spokesperson for John Kasich used Twitter to voice his opinion.
I know a good federal compound for Bundy and his gang: a U.S. penitentiary.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) January 3, 2016
Rand Paul distanced himself from the Bundy’s in a Washington Post article:
I think the best way to bring about change is through politics. That’s why I entered the electoral arena. I don’t support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy.
In spite of the widespread opposition, the Bundy’s continued their online campaign. Ammon Bundy shared his disagreement with Stewart Rhodes. Three days into the occupation, a short but provocative post appeared in the Bundy blog. Entitled “PRAY,” it was intended to evoke a scene of bloodied Patriot heroes falling at the hands of the tyrannical government:
Citizens for Constitutional Freedom has requested that we kneel now in humble and sincere prayer for their efforts and protection. ( no other info available at this time)
John Sepulvada, a writer with Oregon Public Radio, provided some of the most immediate and impartial coverage of the Bundy militia’s take-over of Malheur. In an article dated 3 January, he described how the religion of the Bundy family could be playing a hidden role in their actions. In Explainer: The Bundy Militia’s Particular Brand of Mormonism, Sepulvada detailed the history of the failed State of Deseret, a self-governing theocractic territory.
Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), appointed himself President of Deseret but was unable to gain territorial status for this state. Interestingly, Sepulvada noted that the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was located at the outer boundary of Deseret.
Ackknowledging the Bundy family’s religious affiliation and the potential connection between the LDS and the Malheur occupation, the Mormons were quick to issue a statement distancing itself from Bundy.
While the disagreement occurring in Oregon about the use of federal lands is not a Church matter, Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility.” -LDS Church officials.
The loudest, most emphatic outcry came the evening of 6 January at a Town Hall for residents of Burns. Sheriff Ward again asked the Bundy militia to leave peacably. He asked for a vote of the people. Nearly all in the packed room told the armed group to leave.
Coinciding with the Town Hall, Stewart Rhodes offered Ammon Bundy advice on taking an honorable and face-saving retreat in a detailed letter posted at the Oath Keeper website.
Other groups also voiced their oposition.
The Burns Paiute tribe, whose ancestral property is located within the boundaries of Malheur, spoke strongly against the occupation. Tribal Chair Charlotte Rodrique told reporters that the Bundy band was “desecrating one of our sacred sites.”
The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association opposed the Malheur take-over. In its statement, the association said it did “not support illegal activity taken against the government.”
An organization designed to support Oregon ranchers also decried the Bundy action. President Barry Bushue of the Oregon Farm Bureau stated that “the illegal activity of so-called militia groups only harms the Hammonds and the rest of the community because it diverts public attention and scrutiny away from the injustice that the federal government perpetrated on this Oregon family.”
Oregon Wild, a conservation group, called on its members to denounce the actions of the Bundy militia through direct communications with elected officials, specifically U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkely.
Also joining the collective resistance was the Rural Organizing Project (ROP), which kept members and friends updated on the occupation. The non-profit group had very strong words about the Malheur occupation, calling it “an emerging pattern of activity that disrespects local communities’ wishes to handle conflicts civilly and democratically, relies on out-of-state people who declare they know what is best for rural Oregonians, and the targeting of people who disagree with them through threats and intimidation tactics.”
It’s Day 5 of the Bundy militia’s armed occupation of Malheur. The band has been spurned by those who would be likely allies. The federal government has backed-off in an attempt to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. Burns, Oregon citizens want to resume their lives.
Ammon Bundy and his cohorts have been transformed into lone wolves. The question is whether they will retreat peacefully or react violently, as trapped animals are wont to do.