BURNS, Ore. (KOIN) — On Day 4 of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a militia group vowed to stay until they get what they want — and the Harney County sheriff announced he would hold a community meeting.
Group leader Ammon Bundy held another press conference and said the group has a plan. What they want, he said, for the federal government to hand over the wildlife refuge to the local, county and state governments. They claim wildlife refuges are not available for federal oversight.
But Bundy did not disclose the plan. LaVoy Finicum, who was introduced as the man who would explain the plan, only spoke in broad, vague terms.
On a cold and snowy day outside the refuge, Bundy spoke only briefly and took no questions.
“A lot of good things are happening,” he told the assembled media. He thanked the people who gave them food and supplies and thanked one rancher in particular who “brought us a very good pot of soup.”
Speaking broadly, Bundy said the militia is “implementing this plan” in their effort to hold the federal government in check.
Once the community is “strong enough,” he said they can “defend themselves and then we can go home.”
But he did not address what their plan is, and Finicum only laid it out in vague terms.
Finicum — who said he’s “not militia, don’t intend to be militia, I’m just a rancher” from Arizona — said they have a 2-point plan:
They will look at land transaction records and once they find a particular land transaction they will begin restoring land to the owners.
“That is the broad plan,” Finicum said. “We are working on specifics.”
He said there was one common theme he was hearing: residents fear the federal government will do to them what they did to the Hammond family. Their goal, he said, is to help residents “speak out without intimidation.”
Dwight Hammond, 73, and his 46-year-old son Steven Hammond were tried and convicted for arson on federal lands. 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.
They surrendered to prison authorities in California on Monday to complete their prison term.
“The state’s responsibility is to intercede between the overreaching federal government and the citizens of the state,” Finicum said, clearly indicating he thinks Oregon and Harney County have not protected its residents.
When one reporter asked if he and the group were domestic terrorists, Finicum replied, “What is terrorism? Terrorism is when someone is put into extreme fear to control them.”
In a release Tuesday morning, Sheriff Ward announced a community meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Harney County Fairgrounds. The purpose is to “discuss safety concerns and disruptions caused by the behavior of those at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.”
The meeting is open to the public.
Among disruptions is the fact schools in Burns have cancelled classes for the entire week because of the militia’s presence, which has some parents upset.
“Who’s making these calls and why don’t the parents have a say and such?” said Steve English.
“Obviously there’s a scare threat that’s been over exaggerated because I don’t see a threat. I haven’t seen one yet. What’s the issue? They have never threatened our school district or the community.”
Burns resident Chris Briels agrees.
“Do I feel that Bundy’s group out there at the refuge is endangering school kids? No.” But he does admit the takeover is scaring people.
“In a way it’s intimidating people, it’s keeping people afraid of their neighbors and everything else.”
The Harney County Sheriff’s Office has set up a hotline for citizens who have information or safety concerns about the protest at the refuge. The number is 541.573.3162. Officials say the hotline will not be monitored 24/7 but will be checked regularly. They ask citizens to call this number for all things militia related so emergency services aren’t hindered.
Governor Kate Brown responded to the situation Tuesday in a statement.
“Although the FBI is the lead agency responding to the situation, my top priority is the safety of the people of Harney County and the City of Burns. The Oregon State Police has enhanced its presence in the area, augmenting local and federal public safety resources and assisting with community outreach. I look for a swift resolution that allows Harney County life to return to normal.”