Armed anti-government protesters are occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Burns, Ore. in what they say is a show of solidarity with two ranchers facing prison time for burning government land.


Ammon Bundy, the 40-year-old son of anti-government cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, is among the protesters.

The group has refused to leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Officials said there are no government employees in the building.

“We will be here as long as it takes,” Ammon Bundy told CNN on Sunday. “We have no intentions of using force upon anyone, [but] if force is used against us, we would defend ourselves.”

The takeover initially started as a demonstration in support of Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son who were convicted of arson and sentenced to five years in prison.

But the Hammonds said they are not a part of the demonstration.

“Neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond Family,” the family’s lawyer Alan Schroeder wrote to Sheriff David Ward, according to local CBS affiliate KOIN.

Prosecutors said the Hammonds set fire to 130 acres of land in 2011 to cover up poaching.

The father and son said they started the fires in order to curb the growth of invasive plants and preemptively protect their property from wildfires.

The two were convicted of arson three years ago and served time – the father three months and the son one year. But then a judge ruled their terms were too short and ordered them back to prison for approximately four years each.

Dwight Hammond says he views his upcoming sentence as a life term.

“I’m not very happy about that. Just don’t know what to say,” Hammond told KOIN. “It just seems like a little overreach for having burned 127 acres.”

The decision touched a nerve with ranchers in remote areas of the state.

Ammon Bundy said in a Facebook post on Saturday night his group is occupying the building because “the people have been abused enough.”

“I feel we are in a situation where if we do not do something, if we do not take a hard stand, we’ll be in a position where we’ll no longer able to do so,” he said.

He encouraged those who supportive to their cause to rally at the refuge.

“We are using the wildlife refuge as a place for individuals across the United States to come and assist in helping the people of Harney County claim back their lands and resources,” he said.

“The people will need to be able to use the land and resources without fear as free men and women. We know it will take some time.”

Cliven Bundy engaged in a weeks-long standoff with federal law enforcement officials in 2014 over unpaid grazing fees.

--This report was updated at 2:26 p.m.