The militant occupation of a wildlife sanctuary in Oregon has stirred the the ire of hundreds of nature lovers and defenders of public lands who have launched their own counter-protest against the group’s ongoing “temper tantrum with guns.”
“We can show the gang that’s out there at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge how you really make a public statement in support of something,” Sean Stevens, executive director of Oregon Wild, declared at a rally in Portland, Oregon’s Holladay Park on Tuesday.
“We’re going to be positive. We’re going to be peaceful and we’re going to talk about how much we love public lands,” Stevens said.
Similar demonstrations condemning Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s armed takeover of Malheur were held across the northwest on Tuesday. Rallies in Portland, Eugene, and Bend, Oregon each saw crowds of over 200 people while over 100 turned out at the Capitol building in Boise, Idaho.
Attendees of the demonstrations were described as birders, hikers, and nature lovers. In Eugene, “most participants arrived in or carrying outdoors gear, such as kayak vests or binoculars,” The Oregonian reported. While in Portland, crowds chanted “birds not bullies.”
A couple dozen people also turned out for a protest outside the entrance to Malheur. Among them, Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, stated: “We’re here to say the Malheur is not occupied by the militia — we’re here, we’re on the land.”
Meanwhile, a devoted group of public land defenders has also been camping out nearby.
Since she first heard of the militant group’s January 2 seizure of the refuge headquarters, Candy Henderson has braved rain, snow, and freezing temperatures in her small tent to prove her commitment to keep “public lands public for all Americans.”
“I’ll leave when the militia leaves,” said Henderson, who attends the so-called Bundy militia’s daily press briefing to speak up for the importance of public land and the preservation of wildlife. “They cannot keep Americans from their public lands with the barrel of a gun,” she added.
In what it describes as “an odd juxtaposition,” the New York Times notes that Henderson and some of her fellow counterprotesters are sleeping at the same campground as about two dozen members of the Northern Nevada Oath Keepers, whose stated mission is to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Ammon Bundy, the leader of the armed group, reportedly attended a community meeting in Burns Tuesday night during which many of the residents chanted “go, go, go” while others “voiced anger at Bundy’s group as well as the local and federal government for what some said was a lack of effort to end the takeover,” ABC reports.
Earlier this week, two brothers from Eugene, Jake and Zach Klonoski launched an online campaign: “Getting the Occupiers of the Historic Oregon Malheur NWR Evicted” or G.O.H.O.M.E.
With the goal of “turning the occupation against itself,” the brothers are collecting donations each day it continues and will eventually distribute the funds to four groups—Friends of Malheur NWR, Americans for Responsible Action, Burns Paiute tribe, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. These groups, they write, are “antithetical to the occupiers’ message of brute force and rage, as well as the privilege and narcissism inherent in their goals.”
It is worth noting that Jake and Zach are sons of Judge Ann Aiken, who drew sharp criticism from the Bundy group after she sentenced Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond to the full five years the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recommended for setting fire on federal lands.
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