As federal officials take a hands-off approach to the standoff with armed militants who have occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., the militia members have responded this week by escalating the situation on the ground.
In a statement Monday, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said the militants, many of whom came from outside the state to take over a federal building on the wildlife refuge, had engaged in a pattern of harassing local law enforcement officers and federal employees.
According to a report in The Oregonian, Ward said law enforcement officers were followed home and watched, and federal officials also were subject to intimidation.
From Ward’s statement:
Specifically, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which manages the refuge, has told me that while their employees are physically safe, this is clearly a distressful situation for all involved. As this issue has developed over the past week, employees and their loved ones have reported a number of uncomfortable incidences in which unknown individuals from outside our community have driven past slowly or idled in front of their homes, observing the residents and their activities. In addition, self-identified militia members have attempted to engage employees and family members in debates about their status as Federal employees. Many of these confrontations are taking place as their employees are grocery shopping, running errands with their families and trying to lead their day-to day lives.
The Pacific Patriot Network, a coalition of militia groups, denied organizing or encouraging such tactics.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that the protesters on Monday stole a Wildcat excavator from the Fish and Wildlife Service and used it to knock down a barbed-wire fence at the end of the refuge. The move was aimed at allowing a local rancher to graze his cattle on federal land.
“The steps they’re taking—the occupation they’re doing—actually robs the American public of experiencing one of the premier wildlife and birding refuges in the United States,” an FWS spokesman told the Times.
Ammon Bundy, the leader of the militants, said the group had accessed government documents in the occupied building, the Associated Press reported. Bundy said the documents would be used to “expose” federal tactics used against ranchers.