A group of armed militiamen seized a federal building in Oregon on Saturday and vowed to occupy it for "years," turning a relatively obscure local dispute into a bizarre national story that sparked a new round of protest about the way white militants are treated by the government and the media.
The militia—which one reporter said numbered no more than 12 people—took over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, OR. The occupation was ostensibly in support of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond—an Oregon father and son who, after being imprisoned for setting fire to federal lands under a provision of a 1996 anti-terrorism law, were told that they may have to serve additional time. According to The Oregonian, their case has become a symbol for anti-government militias protesting federal stewardship of natural lands. (On Saturday, the Hammond family issued a statement saying it did not want the militia's support.)
The group occupying the Oregon building includes children of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose armed standoff with the federal government over his illegal ranching activities became a major story in 2014. One of them, Ryan Bundy, told a reporter that the group was willing to kill and be killed to maintain its position.
Another Bundy family member, Ammon Bundy, said in a video posted to Facebook that the militia was prepared to occupy the refuge for "several years" in order to allow people to do what they wanted on the land without federal intervention.
"We're the point of the spear," he said, adding, "We need you to bring your arms."
It was unclear how the government would respond. Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said that "A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution."
The standoff prompted many on Twitter to point out the ways that an armed white militia was being treated differently than armed, or unarmed, black and Muslim people who run afoul of law enforcement.