U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich weighed in on the situation where “armed extremists” took over a federal bird sanctuary in rural Oregon earlier this month, saying that those responsible should be prosecuted.
I find the latest Bundy land-grab scheme deeply disturbing. When you use armed intimidation to take over lands and property that belong to the American people, that’s not ‘taking back’ anything. It’s just stealing,” Heinrich said in a statement.
Heinrich sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking her to prosecute those involved and tied them to the movement to give federal lands in the West to the states.
“Unfortunately, the attack on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is only the latest effort in a growing campaign by anti-government interests to seize and sell off the American people’s public lands,” Heinrich wrote in the short letter.
He said that it may have come from the previous standoff in Nevada between Cliven Bundy and supporters and federal law enforcement. At issue was federal authorities attempting to seize cattle from Bundy for millions of dollars in unpaid grazing fees he owed the federal government.
“I am concerned that the absence of federal prosecution after similar events in the past, such as the 2014 standoff near Bunkerville, Nevada, may have emboldened these individuals to seize federal property in the Malheur standoff,” Heinrich’s letter said. “There must be consequences for this sort of dangerous action. When the federal government does not fulfill its duty in prosecuting violations of the law, individuals are emboldened to further defy the law.”
The occupation in sparsely-populated eastern Oregon has received national attention. Some have demanded that those occupying the federal facility be called terrorists, while others have called on the federal government to forcibly evict the armed men.
The occupation came after peaceful protests against the prosecution of two men for arson on federal land, leading to a five year jail sentence. The protest included a march through Burns, Oregon.
A smaller splinter group from those protests then seized the empty Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, claiming they found a full key ring and let themselves in. Included in that group was Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy.
They have criticized the scope of federal lands, especially in the West.
Heinrich raised the possibility that this sort of action may happen in NEw MExico, which also has sizable amounts of federal land.
“My constituents serve as park rangers and wildlife biologists, volunteer in visitor centers, and routinely hunt, hike, ski, bike, and camp with their families on these public lands,” Heinrich said. “The possibility that their offices and community buildings may be overrun in an armed siege is simply unacceptable.”