LDS church releases stance on armed takeover of federal building in Oregon

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released its stance on the standoff at a federal building in Oregon.

Monday Eric Hawkins with the LDS church told Fox 13 News:

“While the disagreement occurring in Oregon about the use of federal lands is not a Church matter, Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles. This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. We are privileged to live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can – and should – be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land.”

Saturday night, armed men broke into the desolate headquarters of a federally owned wildlife refuge in Oregon and said they weren't going to leave until the government stops its "tyranny."

It just got weirder from there.

The group's spokesman is Utahn Ammon Bundy, the son of anti-government Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The father made national news when he led a huge standoff against the feds in 2014 in which he and his brother participated. The standoff took on racist shades when the elder Bundy wondered aloud to a New York Times reporter whether black people would be better off enslaved.

That is the backdrop against which a very complicated, confusing and tense situation continues Monday with Ammon Bundy and dozens of supporters who have answered his call on social media to join him at the remote outpost about 30 miles from Burns, Oregon.

In a press conference in which a few followers rambled for a long time about Constitutional rights and against the federal government, Bundy said the group had decided to call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom.

Who is Ammon Bundy?

Bundy won't say how many armed people are at the refuge. CNN's Sara Sidner is near the headquarters building -- a tiny building at the remote wildlife outpost near Burns, Oregon, and has interviewed Bundy. She has seen mostly men, but said there were at least two women -- one of them a wife of one of the men.

The Oregonian has reported that Ammon's brother Ryan Ammon is there. The two participated in their father's fight against the Bureau of Land Management in 2014 when the federal government tried to get Cliven Bundy to move his cattle off protected land. Back then the Bundys encouraged like-minded anti-government folks to join them and many responded. The ordeal ended when the government retreated and the Bundys declared themselves victorious.

Who is with him?

Ammon Bundy, who has lived in Arizona with his wife, sent an appeal for supporters to join him in Oregon.

The Arizona Republic reported that three from the area have answered the call.

One of them, the newspaper said, is Jon Ritzheimer, an avowed anti-Islamist and former Marine who served in Iraq. In 2014 he organized a protest outside a Phoenix Islamic community center during which he wore a T-shirt that said, "F--- Islam." He said his goal was to provoke. "I'm trying to achieve exposing Islam," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper at the time, and compared himself to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Ritzheimer appears to have posted a video of himself at the refuge on Sunday. It is difficult to follow because of abrupt editing, but in it he says, "We went there. It was completely open. ...We just rolled right in."

Arizonan LaVoy Finicum is also with Bundy. He spoke at the press conference, standing in the snow, flanked by at least a dozen supporters. He repeatedly said he was interested in defending his rights under the Constitution.

Finicum is a rancher who lives in the Kaibab Plateau area of northern Arizona, and has publicly stated he is no longer paying federal grazing fees which he calls "extortion," the Republic reports.

Ryan Payne is also there, the Oregonian reports. The military veteran from Montana worked security to defend Cliven Bundy in 2014, and told the Southern Poverty Law Center that he was in charge of putting snipers in position when the standoff came to a head.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate crimes and militias.

What do they want?

Though the group's goals have so far seemed hazy, Ammon Bundy has said that they essentially want two things.

First, they want the federal government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge so "people can reclaim their resources," he told CNN early Monday. And second, they want an easier sentence for a pair of father and son ranchers convicted of committing arson on federal lands in Oregon.

The group's armed action came after they broke off from a group protesting that the pair were being forced to serve more time than their original sentence.

Father and son ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, said they started a fire in 2001 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and to protect their property from wildfires, CNN affiliate KTVZ-TV reported, but that the fire got out of hand. Prosecutors said they set fires to cover up poaching.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement Monday: "The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area," it said.

"Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer" on Bureau of Land Management property. "Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out 'Strike Anywhere' matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to 'light up the whole country on fire.' "

Federal law mandates that the offense carry no less than a five-year sentence. The first federal judge to oversee the case thought the sentence was too harsh and gave them two years which they served. In October 2015, the Ninth Circuit ruled that they had to serve the mandatory minimum.

Bundy has said the case illustrates the government's "abuse" of power.

What do the Hammonds want?

The Hammonds are cooperating, their attorney has said, adding that father and son do not support what Bundy and the others are doing. They are expected to turn themselves in Monday afternoon to begin serving their sentences.

The attorney's statement doesn't seem to hold much sway with Bundy and the others.

"At the heart of this is a complaint that the federal government owns so much land, and that feeling is typical in a lot of western states," said Heidi Beirich, a lead researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center. "But that land doesn't belong to them. It belongs to all of us and the government is working to preserve it.

"And I don't know where they get off thinking that the land doesn't belong to those who originally had it," she quipped.

CNN's Sara Sidner asked Bundy and other supporters what the think about the argument, widely made on social media, that if they wanted the land to go to the people, it should go back to Native Americans.

The men paused for a moment and told Sidner that they'd welcome anyone to join them, including Native Americans.

Where is law enforcement?

The short answer is visibly no where near the occupied wildlife refuge headquarters. Sidner and her crew are logistically unable to drive into the park where the headquarters are located. The building looks like a place you'd stop to grab a bite and use the bathroom on a long roadtrip, she said. It's away from the road, and in every direction there's tremendous empty expanse. If law enforcement showed up and wanted to be seen, they would be, she said.

The FBI has said it is taking the lead on the situation and is working with state and local authorities toward "a peaceful resolution" to the situation, the agency's Portland office said in a statement.

Citing "safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved," the FBI declined to comment further.

How and when could this end?

Some have criticized law enforcement for this approach, especially on Twitter where the most strident comments have been posted. Many are using the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack to say there's a double standard applied to Bundy and his supporters. If they weren't white, many say, there would be a harsher and swifter response.

Many have said the Black Lives Matter movement has been penalized for far less than what's happening at the wildlife refuge. If they were Muslims, the law enforcement response would be different, others argued.

But several in law enforcement have said there are circumstances to consider. This is a remote area in Oregon in a building where no one -- except those who've voluntarily occupied the building -- are in immediate danger.

"What's going to happen hopefully (is) ... we don't go out there with a big force, because that's what they're looking for," said CNN law enforcement analyst Art Roderick, a retired U.S. marshal who investigated anti-government militias for years. "The last thing we need is some type of confrontation."

Bundy has said he and others are prepared to stay in the building for days, weeks or months if necessary. They have enough food and other supplies, he said, to see them through for a long time.

Bundy has repeatedly warned that the armed occupiers don't intend to harm anyone, but if law enforcement or others try to force them from the building, they will defend themselves.

 

33 comments

  • Bob

    Domestic terrorism? Good for these people and hope they stand their ground. The Feds are so out-of-control and this is why there is a push for gun control.
    Federal land? How about the States take it all back and tell Mordor on the Potomac to go pound sand.

    • ANOTHERBOB

      An unarmed citizenry is powerles to stop dictators and tyrants. Those who hunger for power and control have good reason to want gun control.

    • analogismos

      LOL, there is a push for gun control simply because some hicks don’t understand the law and think a wildlife refuge should be monetized?

      • Elder

        I agree with you. Too bad that if I as a joe blow citizen throw a fit on the streets of a city would be thrown in jail, possibly shot, but these yahoos get away with it with national attention as some kind of heros for freedom of who? Their rights to use citizens land paid for with citizens tax dollar for their own use.

      • bob

        The Saul Alinsky is strong with this one.

        When you’re done following the Rules for Radicals show us, in the Constitution, where the Feds are authorized to own the physical land.

        Show us where it’s OK to charge a rancher with “terrorism” under the Patriot Act for burning weeds.

        I’ll wait.

  • ANOTHERBOB

    Back in the colonial days they used to tar and feather tax collectors and other scoundreds. I certainly wouldn’t condone doing it today.

  • bob

    A couple of observations:

    1. Not a PEEP of protest from liberals about the LDS Church commenting on a political matter…..as long as the Church’s stand agrees with their politics.

    2. Bundy did NOT say “Blacks would be better off as slaves.” He said they were better off as slaves than living on the Federal plantation. A sentiment I heartily agree with, and which is far from “racist.” In fact, he was decrying what the Federal government has done to destroy the lives of black citizens. Deliberately chopping up a quote to change the context and intent is the same as lying, as Fox13 knows quite well.

    3. The U.S. Constitution does not authorized the Feds to own the physical land within any state, aside from carefully defined exceptions. The BLM has no such authorization. Why, then, are exceptions mentioned for “military reservations” and “a national capitol”? Since the BLM is not authorized, they’re FORBIDDEN under the very clearly written 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights. (I triple dog dare a liberal to mention the Supremacy Clause while leaving out the context and disclaimer, as they always do.)

    The Fed owns almost NO land East of the Mississippi, but the majority of the land in the West. Why? When Eastern states joined the Union the public land within their borders was automatically ceded to the control of the new State. That’s what “Statehood” MEANS. It’s part of the definition of a “State”, as opposed to a “Territory.”

    The Church’s position should have been to take no position. Or, if they insist on playing politics, to take a stand against the lawless tyranny of the Federal government which will result in the end of the Church in this country if it’s allowed to continue unchecked. Remember: If the Fed can do it to others, it can do it to YOU. Your time will come.

  • bob

    News flash for the LDS Church: This country only EXISTS because armed citizens gave up trying to obtain redress of legitimate grievances from their government. They SHOT GOVERNMENT AGENTS until the government surrendered.

    This is the Second Amendment doing exactly what it’s designed to do. The Constitution doesn’t protect our rights. It merely describes them. GUNS protect them, when the Courts fail.

    It’s time we pulled our heads out and realized that the Federal Courts ARE the Federal Government. The fox is in charge of the hen house. Asking a Court to rule on the limits of its own authority, when we have a clearly written document that already binds it, is absurd.

    FORCE the government to comply. Stop asking it.

    • analogismos

      wow, you really didn’t know about the separation of powers described in the constitution? Yes, the courts AND congress AND the Executive branch are all the Federal government. Guessing you were home schooled.

      • analogismos

        @ Bob, i have no idea who Mr Alinsky is. I am tempted to assume it is meant as an insult, but am happy to be corrected. A hint, to help answer your question; Which branch is given the power and responsibility of interpreting the law?

      • Tracy

        I just have to say, please don’t align Bob with homeschooling. I was a public school child and was NEVER required to learn about government (raised here in Utah). Because of such huge gaps in education, we have chosen to homeschool our children and learning about government is important in this house (and to be honest, most homeschoolers learn a LOT about how government works and the importance of questioning all authority. After all, one belief that homeschoolers have in common almost across the board is, in some form, “do I really want to trust my child’s mind to the government/blind authority/public policies/etc…?”

      • analogismos

        For Tracy, i would like to add that i went through public school here in Utah and DID learn about the separation of powers in Elementary school, again in junior high and again in high school. That was also where i learned critical thinking and developed the ability to form my own opinions based on the quality of the information provided and not on the level of “authority” of the information.

  • bob

    “If they weren’t white, many say, there would be a harsher and swifter response.”

    Are you out of your minds? If they weren’t white they’d be invited to the White House and given medals. Do liberals pay any attention to the news at all?

  • Mr.Annoyed

    Just because it involves someone from Utah does not mean that the Mormons need to get involved and make statements. If it’s not a church matter and you admit outright that it’s not your business then keep your opinions and statements to yourself.

    • bob

      Thank you! I agree completely. Unless and until the protesters take a public stand which they CLAIM is in accorance with Church doctrine then it’s not a Church matter.

    • Cornelius

      The reasons for the dispute are what the Church said doesn’t involve them. The claims on misapplied LDS scriptures are what they are addressing. In other words, they’re not saying whether what happened is legal or not, but claiming to be Captain Moroni so you can respond with a threat of violence does directly involve Church doctrine and Church policy. Whether or not they are members of the Church, they are twisting scripture to justify their actions.

  • Skyler Harrison

    All your ignorant and irrational tailer-trash responses make me chuckle. I am willing to bet that if this group of white trash tea bagger hicks were a group of Muslims or blacks, they would be shot at. But since they are white, its ok.

  • James Wadsworth

    What a bunch of nut jobs. I get tired of listening to the oversimplified constitution talk. The founding fathers knew there would be disputes, so they created a court system. The Bundys are semi-literate and not qualified to teach the constitution. They assume their grazing range near bunkerville is theirs and not OURS, and conveniently forgot that this land was territory of the Mojave Paiutes before the white claimed it. The Mojave band of Paiutes should do an armed occupation of their NV range land.

    • bob

      The so-called “Patriot Act” bypasses the courts. That’s what the Feds used to put them in prison.

      But you’re OK with that, sheep. Right?

  • Ben George

    Cool head and careful analysis of this is essential to achieving the best out come for all parties and benefit of the whole Nation. Live is more precious than the properties. However, Justice for all is tandy and much desired. God help Us all!

  • analogismos

    so, because the original judge (a government employee) abused his power to apply an illegal punishment, It is somehow a government abuse of power for a higher judge to (LEGALLY–according to the constitution) correct it?

    • bob

      Yes. If you were even passingly familiar with the Constitution you’d know that. It’s in the Bill of Rights. You cannot be convicted twice for the same crime.

      They did their time. The “judge” used the PATRIOT ACT, which you liberals claimed that you hated until you owned it, to put them in Federal prison without trial as “terrorists.”

      Sieg Heil, liberal. You cretins are nothing but nazis.

      • analogismos

        They weren’t convicted twice. The illegal sentence was corrected for the initial conviction. It’s not rocket science my friend.

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