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Bundy sons, militia to reveal mission behind takeover of federal wildlife headquarters

BURNS, Ore. — The Bundy sons are on a mission with militiamen.

It’s taken them to a quiet corner of rural Oregon, where the armed militiamen have attracted headlines by taking over the federal headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns.

By Monday, it’s possible that the Bundys and the self-styled militia group will reveal to the public what, precisely, their specific mission and purpose is in occupying the federal building in southeastern Oregon. They plan to give a “mission statement” on Monday morning, according to a member of Bundy’s security detail, who spoke to reporters gathered along the highway near the headquarters on Sunday evening.

The Bundy name has become forever linked to public lands disputes in the West.

Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy are the sons of Cliven Bundy, the rancher in rural Bunkerville north of Las Vegas who made international headlines in April 2014 during an armed standoff. Bundy-backing militia members and other supporters squared off against federal agents who had rounded up Bundy’s cattle after he didn’t pay grazing fees for using public lands. The feds released the cattle, and no shots were fired.

The 2014 standoff rekindled a broader debate about public lands in the West, one that is often contentious between ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that has oversight of lands. The Bundys and their supporters insist the federal government is overstepping constitutional boundaries by owning public lands.

“We want the government to abide by the Constitution … and to play by the rules,” Ammon Bundy told CNN in a phone interview Sunday. In this case, the issue at hand involves Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond. Both were convicted in 2012 of starting blazes on public lands.

Prosecutors said it was to cover up poaching. The Hammonds maintained it was to protect their property from invasive plants and wildfires. They start five-year prison sentences this week.


Whether it’s cattle in Bunkerville or the Hammonds in Harney County, Oregon, the armed men who flock to both places say that broader issues matter the most.

“I have a vested interest in anything that has to do with my Constitution being trampled on,” said the Bundys’ bodyguard, who declined to give his name. “I swore an oath to defend my country against enemies foreign and domestic.…. I am not a terrorist. I’ve got kids. I work.”

Robert McKnight, 38, stopped by the gathering of militiamen to visit. The lifelong Burns resident and hunter had a coyote carcass in the back of his pickup truck from a hunting trip.

“Public lands are I believe public,” he said. “They don’t belong to the federal government. They don’t belong to the state government or the county government. They belong to the people.”

He and his wife Teena, 37, marched in a parade supporting the Hammonds on Saturday in Burns.

“I think a lot of people are scared,” he said.

“They don’t want to get in the middle of it,” his wife said.


Reached by telephone Sunday, Cliven Bundy, who isn’t at the wildlife refuge, said he talked to Ammon Bundy at about noon.

“Those boys are there to support the Hammonds,” he said. In his telling, the ideal outcome would be to prevent the Hammonds from going to jail and get “another grand jury to review the case.”

At the same time, however, the Hammonds are due to report Monday to start their prison sentence. W. Alan Schroeder, the attorney for the Hammonds, sent Oregon’s Harney County Sheriff David Ward a letter in December saying that the Bundy-led group doesn’t speak for them. His clients will report to federal prison on Monday to start their sentence, according to the letter, obtained by the Review-Journal.

The road leading to the entrance into the wildlife refuge headquarters isn’t blocked off by law enforcement, though the sheriff has advised people to avoid the area. Militia had the entrance to the refuge headquarters blocked off on Sunday, although the road and an adjoining parking lot were open.

“We’re not there to do any harm,” the elder Bundy said. “We’re there to try and help. We don’t have anybody to fight. We don’t fight with the local government.”

The Bundy patriarch isn’t with his sons in Oregon. He didn’t rule it out, either.

“Not anytime soon,” he said, when asked if he’s planning to go. “If I have to go there to represent freedom and liberty, I guess I will.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1

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