Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters
The headquarters and visitors centre of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in Oregon, were occupied by a group of armed right-libertarian militia on 3 January 2016Cacophony

US authorities have come in for heavy criticism over their soft handling of the growing crisis in rural Oregon, where an armed band of right-libertarian militia has invaded a federal wildlife station. The men occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the city of Burns last night, following a protest about the jailing of two Oregon ranchers convicted of arson on government land.

The group are said to be heavily armed white men, who have told reporters that they are willing to fight and kill to protect individuals' rights to use federal land, and have called on "patriotic" sympathisers to head to Oregon to join in. They claim to have as many as 150 people with them in the refuge's offices and visitors' centre, but one reporter on the scene believes their number is closer to 12.

The group identify as far-right anti-government libertarians who want to drastically reduce the size of the federal government in favour of increased rights for states and individuals.

With the situation developing overnight, American social media has woken up asking why the National Guard was not called in, as it was during protests by black activists in Baltimore and Ferguson in 2015.

Sections of the US media have also been attacked for what is being seen as mealy-mouthed coverage of the crisis. Many critics have been asking why a group of armed men invading federal property and threatening to kill have not earned the label "terrorists".

Most of the vocal commentators on Twitter are commenting using the hashtags #OregonUnderAttack and #crimingwhilewhite. The latter hashtag refers to the perception that white Americans receive privileged treatment from US law enforcement agencies.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's definition of domestic terrorism as:

…activities with the following three characteristics:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the US.