More than 100 demonstrators, some of them armed, reportedly surrounded the Bureau of Land Management’s Medford, Oregon district office Thursday to protest the agency’s regulations against a rural gold mine.
Supporters of the Sugar Pine mine tell the Mail Tribune that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials lied when they said mine owners George Backes and Rick Barclay needed to file a plan with the agency for what they called previously unknown mining activity. The agency told Backes and Barclay that they had to file a plan or remove their equipment.
Some of the protesters who congregated in the agency's parking lot were members of the Oath Keepers movement, an organization made up of former and current law enforcement personnel who vow to disobey government orders they deem unconstitutional.
Mary Emerick, a spokeswoman for the Oath Keepers, told the Mail Tribune that volunteers from the organization have been guarding the mine. She said those volunteers came from various parts of the western U.S.
The armed volunteers started showing up last week after Barclay called upon them because he was afraid the agency would seize the equipment.
The miners contend they legally control all of the land and resources within the claim, which they say has been continuously mined since the 1800s. The agency has said the land belongs to the federal government and the miners have to file a plan of operations if they want to continue working in the area.
"(The miners) have a particular interpretation of the Constitution that has not been recognized by any federal court," BLM spokesman Tom Gorey told the Mail Tribune.
Although Barclay did call upon the armed volunteers, he is looking to distance himself from any actions that could replicate what happened in Nevada last year.
In that case, hundreds of armed supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy faced off against BLM agents in April to stop a roundup of cattle from public land where Bundy had allowed his stock to graze near the town of Bunkerville.
Federal officials accused Bundy of failing to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees over more than 20 years. Bundy claimed the federal government has no authority over the land.
Bureau officials backed off, and Bundy and his supporters declared victory. But BLM officials say they are still pursuing an administrative and legal resolution of the dispute.
"We are not looking for Bundyville. We are not looking to challenge anything. We are just holding our constitutional rights and property rights in reserve until we get our day in court," Barclay said.
According to agency officials, the miners have filed an appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals and a court date is expected to be determined by the board.
Gorey said the board is the “proper venue” for the miners’ claim to surface.
The Associated Press contributed to this report