America's right-wing domestic terrorism problem continues as Oregonian reporter Les Zaitz is covering the standoff in Harney County, Oregon. Armed militia seditionists continue their standoff with the FBI after seizing the Malheur Lake federal bird sanctuary over the weekend, and plan to stay "years" if need be.
Here's a summary of key elements of this unfolding story:
The backdrop: Militiamen from several states came to Burns to protest the impending imprisonment of two Harney County ranchers. They participated in several community meetings and organized a rally and protest march that occurred without controversy on Saturday. The march lasted about an hour and involved about 300 people – a mix of militia and local residents. At the county sheriff's office, marchers threw pennies -- meant to symbolize citizens buying back their government.
The occupation: Some time after the rally, key militia leaders broke off and drove across the high desert basin south of Burns to the wildlife refuge. They said they took over the refuge headquarters, which was unoccupied for the holiday weekend. They also have blocked the access road. Indications are that this has been planned for some time. Accounts of how many militia are at the refuge range from their own claims of up to 150 to accounts from reporters at the scene that there may be no more than 15.
The refuge: Established in 1908, the refuge is one of the premier migratory bird habitats in the U.S., featuring Malheur Lake. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge headquarters includes the main office, a museum, and homes. No workers were on duty when the occupiers arrived.
Who's involved: Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is acting as the leader, conducting a steady stream of media interviews. Other key militia leaders have joined him, including Ryan Payne, an Army veteran from Montana involved in last year's armed standoff in Nevada with federal agents; Blaine Cooper, an Arizona militiaman who also participated in the Nevada standoff, and Jon Ritzheimer, who made headlines last year for anti-Muslim rhetoric. Days before the refuge takeover, Ritzheimer posted what struck some as a farewell video to his family.
What they want: Ammon Bundy has said in several interviews that the occupiers want federal land returned to Harney County ranchers and loggers. They say the federal government has oppressed local people with its ownership and control of land. Payne and others have insisted that under the Constitution, the federal government has no legal right to Harney County land.
Law enforcement response: During Saturday's rally, not a police officer was visible. And so far law enforcement agencies have not approached the refuge or blocked access to the territory. The FBI is in charge because the refuge is federal property. The Harney County Sheriff's Office and the Oregon State Police are engaged as well.
So yes, this is a direct follow-up to April 2014's Bundy ranch standoff, where armed seditionists faced off against law enforcement agents over Cliven Bundy refusing to pay the feds for grazing his cattle on federal land for 20 years, are now at it again.
They've planned this for a long time, I suspect. The BLM backed off and the Bundys remained free. They've struck again.
The question is: now what?