BURNS, Ore. (KOIN) — Hours after the Burns Paiute Tribe called for an end to the armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, militia leader Ammon Bundy said the heart of the issue is who has jurisdiction over these lands.
Surrounded by a group of supporters, Ammon Bundy told the media Wednesday they have evidence “to exonerate the Hammonds,” the Oregon ranchers who are now serving a prison sentence in California for arson on federal lands.
Bundy said they “have multiple witnesses” to the 2006 fire the Hammonds admitted starting. Bundy said these witnesses saw people with the Bureau of Land Management start the fire which threatened the Hammonds’ land. Because of the threat, Bundy said, the Hammonds started the back fire.
“That’s never been reviewed in court,” he said, adding they have “strong enough evidence we will be able to get the Hammonds released.”
Bundy — who refused to say how many people are now at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge with his militia — said the heart of this matter is “a jurisdictional issue between the federal and the state governments.”
The people, he said, are being abused by the federal government in an abuse of territorial authority.
“The county representatives and commissioners have been in collaboration with the federal government,” he said. “The FBI told the county representatives not to respond” to the redress of grievances the militia issued a few days ago, demanding a response within 5 days.
On the floor of the House of Representatives Tuesday, US Rep. Greg Walden– who represents Harney County and said he’s know the Hammonds for 20 years — said “I am not defending armed takeovers. I do not think that’s appropriate and I think the time has come for those to consider that they’ve made their case in the public about what is happening in the West and perhaps it’s time for them to realize they’ve made their case to go home.”
Walden later described the standoff at the refuge as a constitutional crisis. Asked if he agreed, Bundy said yes.
“Anytime you have a family abused and in prison and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in their own defense,” Bundy said, “…I would say yes, it’s a constitutional crisis.”
Tweets have been attributed to “Ammon Bundy,” but he said he does not have a Twitter account. “But from what I hear he’s doing a pretty good job.”
Bundy said he knows there is a time to go home, but it’s not quite the time. They want to make sure there “is some teeth in these land transfers,” an allusion to their vague 2-point plan they announced on Tuesday.
One reporter asked why the militia is still there, since they’ve made their point.
“Enough is enough when there is actual action that is happening, when things are actually transpiring,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Burns Paiute Tribe said the armed protesters don’t belong there and that rightfully the land belongs to the Native Americans.
“I don’t know much about that. That is interesting,” he said. “They have rights as well. I would like to see them free from the federal government.”
The Paiute Tribe’s position
The Burns Paiute Tribe on Wednesday morning held a press conference to call to end the armed standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
“Armed protesters don’t belong here,” Charlotte Rodrique, the Burns Paiute Tribal Chair, said during the press conference.
Rodrique says that the protesters are desecrating sacred land and endangering the community. She says the federal government has a responsibility to protect the native people’s land.
“We never gave up our aboriginal rights to the territory, so we as a tribe actually view this as our land, no matter who is living on it,” she said. “We were here first and just want to set the facts straight.”
Rodrique says she would cut power to the protesters and wait it out.
Bundy began the press conference by dismissing inquiries into his background and his family’s history.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are the sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who had an armed confrontation with the federal government over cattle grazing on federal lands.
Other reports show Ammon Bundy has benefitted from the largesse of the federal government.
In 2010, the trucking maintenance company he owns in Arizona, Valet Fleet Services LLC, received a $530,000 loan from the Small Business Administration.
According to the SBA’s site, the loan was part of a program intended “to aid small businesses which are unable to obtain financing in the private credit marketplace.”
The cost of the subsidy to taxpayers was $22,419, according to the website.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward on Tuesday 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.
Colin Miner of KOIN 6 News contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.