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Nate Jackson / January 4, 2016

Ranchers Take on the Feds in Oregon

A dispute over land use and harsh sentences.

A group of armed activists took over the closed and unoccupied headquarters building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, part of an escalating conflict over land use out West. Rancher Ammon Bundy is leading the group, and if his name sounds familiar it’s because he’s the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who had a similar standoff with the feds in 2014. We wrote at the time to choose your mascot carefully, and we’d advise the same now. Essentially, this dispute arises from two things: First, the truly unjust treatment and sentencing of Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, ranchers punished for arson after they managed controlled burns on their property a decade ago; second, the use of the federal land at the wildlife refuge — Bundy and the other ranchers claim the feds have unlawfully taken it, and the ranchers should be able to continue using it.

Many leftists are demanding that the ranchers’ actions in recent days be considered terrorism. After all, Barack Obama and his cadres have been stoking fears of right-wing extremism since taking office; this is just “proof.” But no one has been held hostage or hurt, much less killed, and the ranchers are so far peaceably assembled. There’s no question the federal government possesses far too much land in the West, but what is the appropriate response? Clearly, many ranchers have had enough, and they’re willing to take up arms to stop the abuse — even, apparently, if it provokes a violent government response.

> Update: Two GOP presidential candidates weighed in Monday. Ted Cruz said, “Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds, but we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence against others.” He added, “It is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”

> Sen. Marco Rubio likewise said, “You can’t be lawless. We live in a republic. There are ways to change the laws of this country and the policies. If we get frustrated with it, that’s why we have elections. That’s why we have people we can hold accountable.”

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