In Burns, Oregon, a group of men have converged and branded themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. They have come to Burns from California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin, and are expecting more arrivals. Some are affiliated with the Three Percenters, a national group of “ex- and current military, police, and trained civilians” who believe that America is being dismantled and that state rights are being infringed upon. Others are associated with Cliven and Ammon Bundy, who entered the national spotlight following a similar standoff with federal officials stemming from a 2014 dispute pertaining to grazing rights on public land in Nevada. The Bundys are now the de facto leaders of this state of affairs. There are also those who simply feel that the federal government has overstepped its boundaries and that this is their call to action.
Armed, they walked into and seized an unoccupied facility belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, located near Burns, Oregon. They have been regularly rotating a presence of armed men between the site and the Hammond Ranch. Despite the takeover, access to and from the facility is unregulated—allowing freedom of access for curiosity-seekers and like-minded individuals. The ranch is private property, is located adjacent to the wildlife refuge, and is where this situation is rooted.
This discord follows a legal dispute with officials who successfully prosecuted the Hammonds, finding them guilty of initiating fires that destroyed 130 acres of land in 2001 and 2006 to cover up poaching. The Hammonds contend that the fires were controlled burns, which were meant to stop the spread of invasive species encroaching on their property.
The Hammonds have since turned themselves in, and have stated through their attorney that they do not want assistance from the Bundys or from those who have united in Burns in support of their situation. Even so, their dissuasive pleas are being ignored, as the looming standoff has escalated this local legal dispute to a national issue.
On January 2, an anti-government protest—based on the belief that the constitutional rights of citizens are being infringed upon—erupted into the seizure of the Bureau of Land Management facility. The facility now operates as the Bundys’ command post, a glaring political statement, and the frontline for the Bundys and their band of occupiers.
The developing situation is puzzling, as the Hammonds have surrendered themselves and asked for no such support. Yet others have decided to seize the day in support of their own agendas. Judging by the words Bundy has spoken to the press, and based on this SOFREP correspondent’s insight, there is no set deadline and the objectives of the movement are unclear. We only know they ostensibly seek to support and defend the Constitution and the right to bear arms, they are seeking respect for property ownership by the federal government and support for displaced farmers, and their only apparent goal is a halt to what they describe as an abuse of federal power—demanding that all land acquired by the federal government will be returned to the farmers who once owned it.
Ammon Bundy, speaking on behalf of the group, has also stated that the Hammonds’ case is an example of federal power abuse, as the Hammonds did not sell their land. The Hammonds, as stated before, were convicted of arson—burning 130 acres of federal land. Bundy has stated, “This refuge, it has been destructive to the people of the county and to the people of the area.” Further, he suggested that the Hammonds were targeted as terrorists by the federal government due in part to their lack of cooperation.
The Hammonds—Dwight and Steve—were found guilty of the 2001 arson, and Steve was found guilty of a separate 2006 arson, both in a trial by jury that relied on witness testimony. The trial was held as an arson case, and the Hammonds were not tried as nor suggested to be terrorists.
Despite the complex factors involved in this situation, the cause is strong and serious in Oregon. Many of those occupying the Burns facility and Hammond ranch are armed and prepared to give their lives, with some leaving “goodbye” videos for their families in preparation for a possible showdown with federal officials.
They are obviously anticipating this showdown, as those within the facility are suggesting they expect an FBI-led raid within the next two days. In preparation, those inside the facility are carrying their weapons, primarily AR-15s, and “(pickup) truckloads” of ammo have arrived in preparation for the worst. The site itself remains unimproved—not reinforced. They’re utilizing the facility’s natural defenses, with only portable lighting placed at the access-control points. Those who are occupying the facility rotate on roaming and static guard shifts, acting in a force-protection and show-of-force role. A single 80-foot-tall tower overlooks the lone access road to the facility. Meanwhile, a few men rotate a security detachment to and from the Hammond ranch.
It is not yet clear what plan of action federal authorities have in mind to quell the situation in Oregon, or if they are simply hoping for reason to take hold. All that is clear is that there are armed men with varying missions and goals in Burns. They have seized control of a federal facility in the hopes of bringing to light what they believe are federal infringements upon their constitutional rights.