A group of anti-government militia members have occupied the headquarters and visitor center of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Ore., apparently seeking to provoke a standoff with the federal government.
Several of the right-wing militia members are sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher whose fight with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sparked an armed confrontation with federal officials in 2014.
Militia members have been traveling to the town of Burns, Ore., in recent weeks in support of Harney County rancher Dwight Hammond, Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, who in 2012 were convicted of arson for setting fires on federal land where they had poached deer. (The wildfires burned 139 acres of Bureau of Land Management property in 2001.)
In October, a federal judge sentenced the pair to five years in prison.
The Oregonian reported earlier this week on escalating tensions as the Hammonds' prison date approached.
JJ MacNab, who has covered right-wing extremists for Forbes magazine, first reported this afternoon that militia members had seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. They appear to be led by Ammon Bundy, one of Cliven's sons.
The building that Bundy and his cohorts have occupied is this headquarters and visitor center 30 miles south of Burns. It was closed for the weekend.
In a YouTube video released Dec. 31, Ammon Bundy says that God directed him to go to Oregon, a state he had never visited before.
"I began to understand how the Lord felt about the Hammonds," Bundy says in the video. "I began to understand how the Lord felt about Harney County and about this country. And I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds…. If we allowed the Hammonds to continue to be punished, there would be accountability."
In another video, also posted Dec. 31, militia member John Ritzheimer bids farewell to his family as he prepares to drive to Oregon, where he says he is "100 percent willing to lay my life down in order to fight tyranny."
Ritzheimer then directly addresses Dwight Hammond Jr., the convicted arsonist rancher.
"It's real simple, Dwight: Do you want to die in prison, labeled as a terrorist by these oppressors?" he asks. "Or do you want to die out here with us, as a free man? I want to die a free man."
UPDATE, 10:02 pm: Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the number of militia members in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters is likely between six and 12 people. (The Bundys and militia media have claimed between 100 and 150 men are holding the building.)
Meanwhile, The Oregonian's Les Zaitz reports that Harney County has shut down its schools for the week.