Harney County residents’ plea: Militants, please go home

Community wants militia to go home, but likes the attention on local issues

Residents look on as Harney County Sheriff David Ward address concerns at a community meeting at the Harney County fairgrounds Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Residents look on as Harney County Sheriff David Ward address concerns at a community meeting at the Harney County fairgrounds Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

BURNS, Ore. (KOIN/AP) — Cheers erupted at a community meeting in Burns when a sheriff said it was time for a small, armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge to “pick up and go home.”

The group objecting to federal land policy seized buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Saturday as community members rallied in support of a local father and son convicted of arson.

Authorities have not yet moved to remove the group of roughly 2 dozen people, some from as far away as Arizona and Michigan.

Harney County Sheriff David Ward listens to concerns during a community meeting at the Harney County fairgrounds on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Harney County Sheriff David Ward listens to concerns during a community meeting at the Harney County fairgrounds on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Harney County Sheriff David Ward told hundreds of people gathered at the meeting Wednesday evening that the group needed to leave so local people could get back to their lives.

“You’re not invited to come here and bother with our citizens,” Sheriff Ward said. “I don’t believe that just a handful of people have the right to come in from outside of our area and tell us that we don’t know how to live our lives.”

Sheriff Ward reaffirmed his position that Ammon Bundy and other members of the group are acting selfishly, and not in the interests of Dwight and Steven Hammond or the residents of Harney County.

Dwight and Steven Hammond turned themselves over to federal authorities on Monday to serve their 5 year prison sentences. The Hammond family has publicly stated they do not want help from the Bundy’s.

“There’s some folks in this room that worked very hard to put together a peaceful rally,” Sheriff Ward said during the meeting. “It made a statement, but that positive statement was undermined by selfish acts.”

The group wants the federal government to hand over the wildlife refuge to local, county and state governments. Ammon Bundy and other group members claim wildlife refuges are not available for federal oversight.

Sheriff Ward ridiculed the group for using the threat of violence to incite change.

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“There’s a lot of things I disagree with in this world,” he said. “But we can work through it like adults, peacefully with a united front.”

Several community members said they visited with militants at the refuge since their takeover on Saturday. Many said they did not feel threatened by their presence, and questioned the county’s decision to temporarily close schools.

Sheriff Ward responded by saying, “I would rather have people saying you went overboard than, in hindsight, say ‘why didn’t you do enough?'”

Despite cheers that erupted when the sheriff called for the group to pack up and go home, many agreed that the situation is helping bring local issues into the national spotlight.

Harney County resident Tim Smith said the community needs “to use our resources, and the federal government is mismanaging those resources.” He called for action to develop a “better way of managing our land in Harney County.”

The meeting concluded after more than an hour of public comment. Aside from the sheriff’s pleas for the militants to leave, no plan of action was articulated.

Ammon Bundy has told reporters the group will leave when there’s a plan in place to turn over federal lands to locals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report