BURNS, Ore. (KOIN) — Ammon Bundy, the leader of the militia that overtook the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a protest over the prison sentence of convicted arsonists, said Monday his group intends to “help the citizens of Harney County” any way they can.
But the sheriff of Harney County told them to leave.
The militia is called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, Bundy said during an 11 a.m. press conference. Shawna Cox, a member of the group, read a statement calling for an investigation into the case against Dwight and Steve Hammond, the ranchers convicted of burning federal land in 2001 and 2006.
Bundy said the group sent a “demand for redress” to local, state and federal officials.
They want a response within 5 days. Bundy did not say what the group would do if they don’t get a response.
Bundy said the group started to take action once they understood the Hammonds were put under duress from the federal government.
“Dwight and Steve Hammond are being forced to report to prison today for a crime they did not commit and they have been put twice in jeopardy for it,” Bundy said. “They have already served prison time for this already and they are being forced to go back again.”
But the Hammonds are not facing double jeopardy. They were tried and convicted, then the sentencing judge ignored the federal minimum sentence. Prosecutors appealed, and the Hammonds were ordered to return to prison to finish their federally-mandated sentence.
Bundy described the Hammonds as a “good ranching family”. He said Dwight and Steve Hammond shouldn’t be going to prison.
Bundy also said the federal government has expanded the refuge land near Burns at the expense of ranchers in an unconstitutional manner. Wildlife refuges, he said, are not available for federal oversight.
“This facility actually has been a tool for the federal government to do all those things they have done to the Hammonds,” he said Saturday.
The Sheriff of Harney County
Harney County Sheriff David Ward said the Hammonds “turned themselves in at 1:37 p.m. (Monday) in accordance with the law” at a California prison.
At a short press briefing in Burns, Ward said there are about 7,000 people who live in Harney County, “most of them in Burns and Hines.” He said the militia takeover has “significantly impacted our community” and asked for help from other law enforcement agencies to make sure the citizens of the county remain safe.
Ward addressed the militia directly.
“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.”
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are assisting in the case. Ward left without answering any questions.
The White House
The White House says President Barack Obama is aware that an armed anti-government group has taken over the remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon and hopes it can be resolved peacefully.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a Monday briefing that the administration’s concern is for the safety of federal employees at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge but that none of them is in danger.
He says the FBI is monitoring the situation and offering support to local law enforcement.
The armed group came to the frozen high desert of eastern Oregon to contest the prison sentences of two ranchers who set fire to federal land, but their ultimate goal is to turn over the property to local authorities so people can use it free of U.S. oversight.
Kendra M. Matthews, a lawyer for Dwight and Steven Hammond, said Monday that the father and son will ask President Obama to pardon them.
Their sentences have been a rallying cry for the group who say they ultimately want to turn over the refuge land to local authorities so people can use it free of U.S. oversight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report