Scores of militiamen in standoff at US wildlife reserve

By Rob Kerr, AFP

BURNS, Oregon — Scores of anti-government militiamen occupied a wildlife reserve in the western U.S. state of Oregon for a second night on Sunday, warning that their protest against the jailing of two ranchers, which has divided Americans, could last months. The group — thought to number up to 100 — began occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Oregon on Saturday after a rally in support of ranchers Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, who were jailed over fires on federal land in the area. The local sheriff’s department said in a statement on Sunday that the building’s seizure was an effort by the group to instigate a confrontation with authorities. “These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, 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,” said the statement from David Ward, sheriff of Harney County, where the refuge is located. He added that efforts were under way to resolve the standoff “as quickly and peaceful as possible.” However, there was no visible police presence Sunday night at the reserve, where several militiamen in vehicles guarded the entrance while others kept watch from a lookout tower. There have also been no reports so far of any confrontation around the facility, which was closed when the militia moved in. The Oregonian news website reported that the FBI was handling the case. The protestors holed up inside the refuge — a loose-knit grouping of anti-government farmers, ranchers and survivalists — said they planned no violence but would not rule it out if authorities stormed the site. They announced a press conference for Monday.

School was cancelled in the area for the week and the county courthouse said it would be closed Monday “for security reasons.” On the Internet, public opinion was divided about the #Oregonstandoff. “My instinct as conservative is law abiding,” wrote a Twitter user under the handle @steph93065. “But when Fed Govt abuses people using the law, my instinct goes the other way.” But others branded the takeover an act of domestic terrorism and called on the U.S. government to deal harshly with the armed protesters.