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A group of self-styled militia men remain in control of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon on 3 January. The group of armed anti-government members have vowed to continue occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for years in protest of the federal government's treatment of a pair of local ranchers set to go to prison on 4 January for arson.
The militia men, who split from a larger march and rally held on 2 January in support of Harney County ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, have set up a roadblock and have placed armed members to man a guard tower. The armed occupation is led by Ammon Bundy, a Montana rancher whose father Cliven Bundy led an armed standoff with federal agents in Nevada in 2014.
"Those who want to go take hard stand, get in your trucks and follow me!" Buddy told rally attendees at the end of the event on 2 December. Shortly afterwards, the small group occupied the federal wildlife preserve, The Washington Post reported.
Local police have said that they do not intend to head to the scene, even to keep on eye on the men, ABC News reported. However, Barney County Sheriff David M Ward told reporters that authorities from several law enforcement organisations were monitoring the situation.
In a statement on 3 January, Ward said, "These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers. When in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States."
However, one of the protesters at the entrance of the refuge, Jon Ritzheimer of Phoenix, claims the men are not blocking access to the grounds and have not broken any laws. In a video posted on Facebook, Ritzheimer said, "There's Oregon county residents coming here, the refuge is open, there's zero no-trespassing signs, we're breaking no laws. We're out here on public lands."
According to the Los Angeles Times, Ritzheimer warned law enforcement officials of creating "another Ruby Ridge," in reference to a deadly siege in 1992 in northern Idaho between backwoods cabin dweller Randy Weaver and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. "We will not fire unless fired upon, but we will stand and defend the Constitution," he said. "Yes, there are some people that are armed. We need to defend our rights. That's what the 2nd Amendment is there for, people."
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said that the FBI was leading the response along with the Oregon State Police and local law enforcement. "I understand why rural Oregonians are so frustrated about this economy," Wyden said during a press conference. "But the next step from frustration is not to walk off a cliff, misled by some outsiders who seem willing to take the law into their own hands."