Republican presidential hopefuls who have spoken out have declined to get behind the militia members holed up at a wildlife reserve headquarters in remote Oregon in protest of what they see as federal overreach on land rights.
Three sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and others traveled to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and occupied the visitors center over the weekend. It was unoccupied at the time.
They’re protesting the federal prison sentences for Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, ranchers convicted of arson on federal land. The ranchers said it was a controlled burn while federal officials maintained it was arson meant to cover up poaching.
Local reporters estimate there are about 20-25 people holed up at the refuge, coming and going as they please. Jon Ritzheimer, who has protested outside mosques in his home state of Arizona and drove up to join the Oregon standoff, released a video today appealing for supporters to “get up here and stand with us” because “that’s what’s going to prevent any bloodshed.”
Law enforcement has not approached the compound. Militia members have been watching for movements from a fire tower above the headquarters. They claim they have enough supplies to stay for years.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Iowa radio station KBUR this morning that “first of all, you’ve got to follow the law.”
“You can’t be lawless. We live in a republic. There are ways to change the laws of this country and the policies. If we get frustrated with it, that’s why we have elections. That’s why we have people we can hold accountable,” Rubio said.
The senator added that “there is too much federal control over land especially out in the western part of the United States.”
“There are states for example like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms of land holding and we should fix it, but no one should be doing it in a way that’s outside the law,” Rubio continued. “We are a nation of laws, we should follow those laws and they should be respected.”
Later at a campaign event in Iowa, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called on the protesters to “stand down peaceably.”
“Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds,” Cruz told reporters. “But we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence against others. So it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”
There hasn’t been a reaction yet from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who met with Cliven Bundy during a campaign stop in June.
Gov. John Kasich’s reaction came in the form of a tweet from his senior strategist John Weaver: “I know a good federal compound for Bundy and his gang: a U.S. penitentiary.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted this advisory on the visitors’ website for the refuge: “The Fish and Wildlife Service is aware that an unknown number of armed individuals have broken into and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge facility near Burns, Oregon. While the situation is ongoing, the main concern is employee safety and we can confirm that no federal staff were in the building at the time of the initial incident. We will continue to monitor the situation for additional developments.”