Oregon militia aren’t funny anymore. Time for authorities to step it up

Ammon Bundy poses for the cameras to tear down a barbed-wire fence separating federal and private land.

Ammon Bundy poses for the cameras to tear down a barbed wire fence separating federal and private land.

With their latest actions, Ammon Bundy and his gang of armed yahoos have jumped the shark from being objects of derision with their requests for snacks, tampons, and French vanilla creamer to being even more dangerous vandals and thugs.

Now in the second week of their occupation of a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, Bundy and his ill-prepared crew are using government equipment to destroy government property. They used a federally owned excavator to tear down as much as 80 feet of barbed wire fencing, supposedly to let cattle from private lands graze on public lands — for free. They’ve been driving government vehicles, using kitchens and beds in the Malheur buildings, rifling through government files, and probably accessing government computers with employee ID badges that were left at the site (they’ve denied this, but they have little credibility left).

It’s time that local authorities, the FBI, and the Justice Dept. stopped looking at them as “Y’all Qaeda” and started treating them for what really are — a right-wing, armed, and dangerous occupying force that is openly mocking the authorities’ failure to act. After all, Cliven Bundy, father of three Bundy brothers at Malheur and the deadbeat Nevada rancher who refused to pay $1 million in grazing fees, got away with it with no repercussions. Why should his sons think anything will happen to them?

The publicity-hungry Bundys have given tours of their living quarters at Malheur and held numerous news conferences throughout the standoff. In their latest, they described to reporters how they were looking through government documents to “expose” how the government has discriminated against local ranchers who use federal land for cattle grazing, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. The Bundy Bunch claim that they are finding evidence that will “exonerate” Steven and Dwight Hammond, two area ranchers convicted of arson currently serving a five-year sentence for burning 139 acres of federal land.

The Bundys are conveniently not mentioning the fact that the Hammonds were convicted by a jury of their peers, not the federal government. What would happen to other groups who blatantly and illegally went through government records? Would they be left alone — or would they be in jail right now?

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, who has tried to reach a peaceful settlement with the Bundy Bunch, has been holding regular community meetings with local residents to answer questions and to try to find some resolution without bloodshed. But that may be less likely at this point.

At the meeting the same day as the latest Bundy action, Ward described how “members of the armed group have been harassing law enforcement officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees as they go about their business in the community,” according to the Tribune story. Ward said that “officers and employees have reported being followed to their homes and observed while inside and that self-identified ‘militia members’ have tried to engage them in debates about their status as federal employees.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which usually runs the Malheur site, said the latest Bundy Bunch action “undermines hard-earned conservation impacts achieved in the area,” according to the Tribune story.

“Removing fences, damaging any Refuge property, or unauthorized use of equipment would be additional unlawful actions by the illegal occupiers,” Fish and Wildlife said in a statement. “Any movement of cattle onto the Refuge or other activities that are not specifically authorized by USFWS constitutes trespassing.”

According to many media reports, including this one in the Guardian, the little local support the Bundy Bunch had is waning.

“Local ranchers — some who have said they support Bundy’s message but disapprove of his methods of protest — criticized the militia for cutting the fence on Monday afternoon. ‘There are better ways to go about it then what he’s doing,’ Travis Williams, a 46-year-old Harney County rancher, told the Guardian. ‘It’s destroying public property. … I’m a law-abiding citizen. I pay my grazing fees.’ ”

No one wants the standoff in Oregon to escalate into a bloody shooting match, and federal officials are no doubt frustrated and wary of taking on a group of a dozen or so heavily armed men. But Sheriff Ward seems to be fed up. Federal officials should be, too.

“There’s an hour glass,” Ward told the community meeting, “and it’s running out.”

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