A local militia has recently taken control of a government building outside of Burns, Oregon, in the southeast corner of the state. The Malheur Wildlife Refuge, an area in the high desert of Oregon, is known for its vast amount of bird species.
Why has a militia taken over the refuge? It’s a complicated answer. The takeover was sparked when local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr., 73, and his son, Steve, 43, were convicted of arson. In 2001, they set a fire to cover up that they had poached a deer illegally. In 2006, they set another fire ablaze as a precautionary action to protect their land from a natural wildfire that was headed toward their ranch. The fire they started put some volunteer firefighters in danger because it was close to where the volunteers had set up camp.
So why would that spark a militia to take over a government refuge? There is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison for arson-based crime on a law called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The Hammonds were already sentenced to a less severe penalty by a federal judge based on the circumstances surrounding the two fires. The U.S. Attorney in this case decided that the punishment issued by the federal judge wasn’t severe enough, and sentenced them to the five-year sentence. That’s why the militia is crying foul. They feel that the government is wrong to have issued the mandatory minimum sentence in this case because they believe the Hammonds were just doing what was necessary to protect their land, at least in the case of the second fire.
There are still new details and information coming everyday as the standoff is still going on at the present time. Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy, who has had his own rancher run-in with the government in Nevada, appears to be the head of this militia. It appears that the Bundys and the militia want the Hammonds to be freed from prison immediately as well as wanting the government to leave the refuge altogether. The federal government has yet to respond to the actions of the militia.
Imagine believing in a cause so strongly, that you are willing to participate in a militia that is going to overtake a government refuge. Granted, the building they overtook isn’t very large and media outlets report that no government employees were at the building when the takeover took place—so it’s not exactly Fort Knox we’re talking about here–but it’s the thought process behind this movement that I don’t fully understand. Whether or not you are in favor of what the Bundy-led militia is doing, I think it’s important to take a step back and try to understand their thought process. It seems kind of crazy because it’s not every day that someone rounds up a militia and takes over a government building, but maybe it’s the romantic in me that admires their determination. I’m not condoning or endorsing their actions, but have you ever felt so strongly about something the way this militia seems to feel? It’s worth thinking about .
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