January 4, 2016
Before the seizure, the militia members had joined residents in a parade through the town of Burns to protest the prison sentences of two local ranchers: Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven. The Hammonds were convicted on arson charges pressed by the Bureau of Land Management over fires that they started on their own property to manage pasture vegetation, but which overspread onto land claimed by the Federal Government.
The Hammonds were initially given months-long prison sentences, which they have already served. But government lawyers argued for longer ones, since the arson convictions fall under a 1996 terrorism law that imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. In October, an appeals court judge sent the Hammonds back to prison to serve the full “nickel.” The Burns protest was driven by local outrage over the draconian sentence that effectively brands their neighbors as terrorists.
According to two of the militiamen, the goals of the occupation are long-term and ambitious, as reported by The Daily Mail:
“In a video posted to Facebook by Sarah Dee Spurlock, two men — one donning camouflage gear — explain why they are taking the measures they are.
‘This will become a base place for patriots from all over the country to come to be housed and live here. We’re planning on staying here for several years,’ the first man said.
He added: ‘One time [Harney County] were the wealthiest county, now they’re the poorest, and we will reverse that in just a few years by freeing up their land and resources.
‘And we’re doing this for the people. We’re doing this so the people can have their land and their resources back where they belong.’
He appealed to the public for people to join the group in Oregon.
‘We’re calling people out here to come and stand. We need you to bring your arms and we need you to come to the Malheur National Wildlife refuge,’ he said.
The second man, dressed in camouflage gear, said the group is challenging the government.
‘Until that line is drawn to say “We’ve had enough of this tyranny, you are going to leave us alone”, it will not change,’ he said. ‘This is the power of America right here.
‘People got together for this and it doesn’t have to stop here. This could be a hope that spreads through the whole country.
‘Everybody’s looking for this hope because the government has beat us, oppressed us and took everything from us. They will not stop until we tell them no.’”