Just to the southeast of Burns, Oregon lies the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a 292 square-mile area known for the 320 species of birds that inhabit it throughout the year. Unfortunately, birds are not the main attraction today.
A self proclaimed militia has been occupying the space since late January 2, following a rally to secure the release of a father-son ranching duo that was charged with committing arson on Federal land in 2012.
This militia is demanding that a judge review the case of Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, the two ranchers accused of arson. They also demand that the federal land be returned to private citizens for their use.
Members of the militia include the sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher made famous by a standoff with federal law enforcement officials over cattle grazing on government land.
While some residents disagree with the court’s decision to imprison the Hammonds, there is an overwhelming majority that disagree with the militia’s actions. Some have even posted signs throughout the town saying the Bundys are not welcome. The sheriff has called for the militia to “go home,” yet they remain.
As Americans, we have been conditioned to believe that the boogeyman lives across the Atlantic. Places like Syria and Iran have captivated us through constant media exposure. The word terrorist is used to describe those extremists.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines terrorism as “The use of violence and intimidation for political aims.”
The definition of the term perfectly describes the self-proclaimed militia members occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve.
These individuals have yet to turn violent, and I join everyone else in praying they will not. But their methods are a classic example of using fear and intimidation to pressure the government.
These men have stated that they are willing to die for their beliefs. They have stated that they desire an armed conflict with a government they believe has become tyrannical.
They are terrorists.
They are not terrorists because of their beliefs, as much as I may disagree with them. They are terrorists because they chose to rise up in arms against fellow countrymen rather than seek a peaceful resolution.
Videos, messages, and news reports surfacing from the compound show these militiamen saying they do not seek bloodshed and that they are only trying to get citizens to fight for their rights as Americans. Their words are hollow compared to their actions.
The seizing of the wildlife refuge has cost a town their sense of security. Schools in the area were closed for a week due to safety concerns. Law enforcement officials are warning citizens to stay away from the reserve. Moreover, many locals are now afraid because of the misinformation these terrorists are spreading on the internet.
This militia has successfully sown fear into the town of Burns.
While I would not go so far as to compare the actions of this militia to those of an organization like al-Qaeda, there is no doubt in my mind that what they are doing is wrong.
These men must realize that laws are implemented for a reason, though most are not perfect. The rule of law in this land has changed many times since the Constitution was ratified in 1789.
Disagreements and social discourse are part of what make this country great; it is how we reach compromise and solutions.
The militia does raise legitimate concerns regarding federal land and the management of it. The Hammonds argued that they burned some of the land to destroy invasive species. Many citizens in Burns share the same concerns. However legitimate the concerns are, the methods by which these armed men have chosen to express them in inexcusable.
Change should not, and cannot, be dictated by a loaded weapon. If we allow that to happen, we allow ourselves to be bowed by a vocal minority simply out of fear.
If we are to truly effect change, then we must come together and show our strength. We must let this miltia know that we will not be held hostage by a group of terrorists, no matter what they call themselves.
The United States government is not perfect. As a Marine, I witnessed firsthand some of the shortcomings of our country; I will admit that. However, one thing I refuse to see changed is our resolve. We do not bow to terrorism, domestic or foreign, and we will not bow to Ammon Bundy and his band of terrorists.