A leading House conservative on Wednesday defended the armed protesters occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon as a display of “peaceful” civil disobedience.
Rep. Raúl Labrador’s (R-Idaho) comments stood in contrast to those of many Republicans who have condemned the protests that began Saturday night at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Labrador, a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, accused the media of being less sympathetic to protests started by conservatives and people who advocate for the right to bear arms.
“They’re trying to express their frustration. And I think civil disobedience has been something that for the most part the liberal media used to stand up for. But apparently there’s some exceptions to that,” Labrador said at a Conversations with Conservatives event on Capitol Hill hosted by the Heritage Foundation.
The Idaho Republican expressed sympathy for the protesters, who are angry about what they view as unfair prison sentences for a pair of ranchers convicted of arson on federal land.
“You have all that frustration happening with the takeover of the lands by the federal government, with the unjust sentence, and you have just the frustration that they feel the federal government is not listening to them anymore,” Labrador said.
“And that’s what leads to what so far has been a peaceful takeover of an abandoned building, by the way,” he added.
Ammon Bundy, the protesters’ leader and son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, said Tuesday that the group will not end their occupation of the refuge until the local community has control of the land.
Other Republicans, meanwhile, have distanced themselves from the protests — even if they sympathize with frustration over federal land management.
Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.), who represents the district where the standoff is taking place, said Tuesday night on the House floor the protesters should “go home.”
“I do not think that is appropriate,” Walden said of the armed occupation. “I think the time has come for those to consider that they have made their case in the public about what is happening in the West, and perhaps it is time for them to realize they have made their case and to go home.”
Leading GOP presidential candidates have also condemned the protests and called for an end to the conflict.
“We don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said while campaigning in Iowa this week. “And so it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he thinks the federal government has too much control over lands, but stressed in an interview with Iowa radio station KBUR this week: “You’ve got to follow the law. You cannot be lawless.”
And in an interview with The Hill, Donald Trump said of the standoff: “You have to maintain law and order, no matter what.”