As armed standoffs go, the one underway at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southern Oregon has the all the makings of a disaster.
For days now, a group of men, including the sons of standoff veteran Cliven Bundy, have been hunkered down in an empty building on the federally protected swath of snow-covered tundra.
They’re demanding that the federal government return that land to private owners – to ranchers, miners, loggers and hunters to use as they see fit without interference. And if they don’t get what they want – and they most certainly won’t – they say they have the means to stay holed up there for years.
“We’re here to restore order, we’re here to restore rights,” ringleader Ammon Bundy told reporters he invited to the refuge Sunday. That, he warned, can go “peacefully” or, if the FBI tries something, violently.
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This isn’t a mere “occupation,” as many media outlets have been too quick to call it, or a harmless “protest” by anti-government patriots.
It is criminal and it is terrorism. As defined by the FBI, terrorism is “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Let’s not mince words.
More than terrorists, though, the Bundys and their cohorts are opportunists. The Bundys are outsiders, from Nevada, and so it’s no surprise that they don’t have much support from locals.
What little the militants had, they lost over the weekend when they tried and failed to glom onto the cause of freeing Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, two Oregonians convicted of setting fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006.
The Hammonds served their original sentences, but were ordered to return to prison after a judge decided their stints didn’t meet federal sentencing laws. On Saturday, several militia groups demonstrated in Oregon to protest the way the men were being treated.
The Bundys and their group participated in the parade but couldn’t get others to go along with their plan to take over the refuge in the Hammonds’ name.
Instead, the Hammonds surrendered to prison authorities on Monday. Other militia groups have distanced themselves. Residents of Burns, the closest town to the refuge, say they don’t want any violence. The local sheriff told the Bundys’ group to go home.
Still, the potential for violence is there. Authorities need to be careful to ensure that the Bundys don’t become martyrs who would inspire others to oppose what they claim is an oppressive federal government. Instead of trying to force the militants out, a better option would be to wait. Once the national attention fades and it becomes clear the Bundys aren’t going to get the confrontation they want, it’s a good bet that they’ll get bored and surrender.