The leader of an armed militia that has hunkered down at a remote Oregon wildlife refuge to protest federal land policy said the actions of his group represented an attempt to "remove" governmental "intimidation and fear."
“We understand what it means to be part of a community, and that there is no place for fear and intimidation in a community,” rancher Ammon Bundy said during a Tuesday news conference. “It’s the responsibility and duty of the people to remove that intimidation and fear so members of the community can begin living, and living in freedom.”
The small group of activists who came to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were bundled in camouflage, ear muffs and cowboy hats in the bleak, high desert of eastern Oregon, where their occupation entered its fourth day.
“This is about a community, and we are grateful to be here and be part of this community in the aspect that we are,” Bundy said.
Law enforcement has been in no rush to confront Bundy's group, and that's likely due in part to the isolated outpost the two dozen or so activists chose to hole up in.
"These guys are out in the middle of nowhere, and they haven't threatened anybody that I know of," said Jim Glennon, a longtime police commander who now owns the Illinois-based law enforcement training organization Calibre Press. "There's no hurry. If there's not an immediate threat to anyone's life, why create a situation where there would be?"
No one had been hurt and no one was being held hostage. The takeover puts federal officials in a delicate position of deciding whether to confront the occupiers, risking bloodshed, or stand back and possibly embolden others to directly confront the government.
The activists seized the refuge about 300 miles from Portland on Saturday night as part of a decades-long fight over public lands in the West.
"If there's not an immediate threat to anyone's life, why create a situation where there would be?"
- Jim Glennon
They said they want an inquiry into whether the government is forcing ranchers off their land after Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven, reported back to prison Monday.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, one of which was set to cover up deer poaching, according to prosecutors. The men served no more than a year until an appeals court judge ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.
Their sentences were a rallying cry for the group calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, whose mostly male members said they want federal lands turned over to local authorities so people can use them free of U.S. oversight.
The group is led by two of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights. The activists sent a demand for "redress for grievances" to local, state and federal officials.
"We have exhausted all prudent measures and have been ignored," Bundy said earlier in the standoff.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.