BURNS, Ore. (KOIN) — Ammon Bundy, the leader of the militia that overtook the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a protest over the prison sentence of convicted arsonists, said Monday they intend to “help the citizens of Harney County” any way they can.
But the sheriff of Harney County told them to leave.
The militia is called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, he said at an 11 a.m. press conference. One of the group, Shawna Cox, read a statement calling for a panel to investigate the case against Dwight and Steve Hammond, the ranchers convicted for burning federal land in 2001 and 2006.
Bundy said the group has sent a “demand for redress” to local, state and federal officials.
They want a response within five days. Bundy did not say what the group would do if they get no response.
Bundy said the group started once they understood the Hammonds were put under duress from the federal government.
“Dwight and Steve Hammond are being forced to report to prison today for a crime they did not commit and they have been put twice in jeopardy for it,” Bundy said. “They have already served prison time for this already and they are being forced to go back again.”
Actually, the Hammonds are not facing double jeopardy. They were tried and convicted, then the sentencing judge ignored the federal minimum sentence. Prosecutors appealed, and the Hammonds were ordered to return to prison to finish their federally-mandated sentence.
Bundy described the Hammonds as a “good ranching family”. He said Dwight and Steve Hammond shouldn’t be going to prison.
“We feel that we have exhausted all prudent measures and have been ignored,” Bundy told the assembled media.
Bundy said the federal government has expanded the refuge land at the expense of ranchers in an unconstitutional manner. Wildlife refuges, he said, are not part of the land available for federal oversight.
“This facility actually has been a tool for the federal government to do all those things they have done to the Hammonds,” he said Saturday.
The Sheriff of Harney County
Harney County Sheriff David Ward said the Hammonds “turned themselves in at 1:37 p.m. (Monday) in accordance with the law” at the prison in California.
At a very short press briefing in Burns, Ward said there are about 7,000 people who live in Harney County, “most of them in Burns and Hines.” The militia takeover has “significantly impacted our community” and he asked for help from other law enforcement agencies to make sure the citizens of the county remain safe.
Ward directly addressed the militia.
“I want to directly address the people at the wildlife refuge: You said you were here to help the citizens of Harney County. That help ended when a peaceful protest became an armed and unlawful protest.
The Hammonds have turned themselves in. It is time for you to leave our community. Go home, be with your own families and end this peacefully.”
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are assisting in the case. Ward left without answering any questions.
The White House
The White House says President Barack Obama is aware that an armed anti-government group has taken over a remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon and hopes it can be resolved peacefully.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a Monday briefing that the administration’s concern is for the safety of federal employees at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge but that none of them is in danger.
He says the FBI is monitoring the situation and offering support to local law enforcement.
The armed group came to the frozen high desert of eastern Oregon to contest the prison sentences of two ranchers who set fire to federal land, but their ultimate goal is to turn over the property to local authorities so people can use it free of U.S. oversight.
An attorney for two Oregon ranchers whose impending prison sentences led an armed group to take over a national wildlife refuge says they will seek clemency from the president.
Kendra M. Matthews, a lawyer for Dwight and Steven Hammond, said Monday that the father and son will ask President Obama to pardon them. They were convicted of arson for setting fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 and served some prison time.
A judge said in October that their terms were too short and ordered them back to prison. Matthews reiterated that the Hammonds intend to surrender Monday to begin serving their terms.
Their sentences have been a rallying cry for the group who say they ultimately want to turn over the refuge land to local authorities so people can use it free of U.S. oversight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report