BURNS, United States, Jun 5 – A band of armed anti-government activists occupying a federal wildlife reserve in rural Oregon dug in for a third day Monday, as the ranchers they claimed to be defending denounced the siege and turned themselves in to the law.
The loose-knit band of farmers, ranchers and survivalists – who have dubbed themselves “citizens for constitutional freedom” – began the siege in protest at the jailing of Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, convicted of arson for setting fire to federal land.
Up to a hundred protesters are believed to be holed up at the snowy visitor’s centre for the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, which they took over to show solidarity with the Hammonds, and demand that a court rescind an order for their arrest.
The FBI is working with local law enforcement to bring a peaceful end to the standoff, after the protesters warned they did not rule out violence if authorities stormed the site.
The rancher father and son who triggered the armed siege have firmly distanced themselves from it, and on Monday turned themselves in to begin serving their five-year sentence.
“The Hammonds have turned themselves in today at 1:37 pm, in accordance with the law, and are currently in custody at Federal Correctional Institution in California,” the local sheriff, David Ward, told a press conference.
It was unclear whether their surrender to authorities would end the siege.
The Oregon protest is led by a 40-year-old rancher named Ammon Bundy. His father, a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy, was at the centre of a previous armed standoff with government authorities in 2014, that time over grazing rights on public lands.
Bundy told reporters he was fighting for freedom for the Hammonds, saying they were harassed for refusing to sell their ranch to the government.