(NEW YORK) — As armed militia members continue to hold a peaceful occupation of federal land at an Oregon national wildlife refuge, despite requests from the local authorities to disperse, here is a look back at some of the past militant standoffs in the United States.
1992: The Ruby Ridge Standoff
The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in Idaho prompted a nationwide debate on the use of force by federal agencies.
The standoff began after federal agents tried to arrest Randy Weaver for failing to appear in court to face charges of selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns.
The cabin had been under surveillance for several months when the violence began with the deaths of Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Samuel, and the Weaver family dog, Striker.
During the standoff, FBI agent Lon T. Horiuchi shot and killed Weaver’s wife and wounded family friend Kevin Harris. Witnesses said the sharpshooter fired as Vicki Weaver held open the cabin door, her 10-month-old baby in her arms, to let her husband, their daughter and Harris inside.
Horiuchi said he didn’t see Vicki Weaver when he fired at Harris, who was armed and was ducking inside the cabin. He also said he fired to protect a government helicopter overhead.
A wounded Harris later surrendered, as did Weaver. Both men were acquitted of murder, conspiracy and other federal charges. Weaver was convicted of failing to appear for trial on the firearms charge.
In 1995, the government paid Weaver and his three surviving children $3.1 million for the killings of Vicki and Samuel Weaver.
The federal government declined to prosecute the agent.
1993: The Waco, Texas, Siege
In 1993, a face-off between government agents and the Branch Davidian religious sect near Waco, Texas, lasted 51 days.
The siege began Feb. 28, 1993, when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) raided the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel. There had long been allegations of child abuse and illegal weaponry within the compound, but the arrival of the ATF that day precipitated a shootout that killed four agents and six Branch Davidians.
An FBI team surrounded the ranch and negotiators worked for weeks on end, hoping to bring a peaceful end to the standoff.
Almost two dozen children were released in the early days of the siege. But many more — some the biological children of Koresh, whom he’d fathered with a number of different women — remained inside the compound.
For the entire 51-day length of the siege, workers tried to convince Koresh to emerge from the compound, or at the very least release more of the children.
By mid-April, conditions within the compound were deteriorating and the government concluded the Branch Davidian leader had no intention of coming out voluntarily.
Frustrated by the ongoing saga at Waco, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved a plan to fire CS gas — a form of tear gas — into the compound to force the Branch Davidians out. The FBI knew Koresh had gas masks; masks that probably wouldn’t fit children.
Even under assault by CS gas, the Branch Davidians refused to emerge. Then, April 19, several fires started almost simultaneously around the large compound, and an inferno quickly engulfed almost everyone inside, including Koresh and the remaining children. At least 74 people — including 25 children — perished in the fire.
2014: The Cliven Bundy Incident
Cliven Bundy, the patriarch of a large Mormon family with more than 50 grandchildren, came into the spotlight in April 2014, when the federal government started impounding his 900 head of cattle, following a 20-year battle over cattle-grazing on federal land.
The government said Bundy owed $1.1 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties for continuing to let his cattle roam free on land near Bunkerville, Nevada, 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, even after the government established the area as a protected habitat for the endangered desert tortoise in 1993 and slashed Bundy’s cattle allotment.
The situation escalated the week of April 5, 2014, as hundreds of supporters from around the country rallied on Bundy’s property to protest the federal cattle round-up. The dispute reignited debate over Bureau of Land Management practices, especially in Nevada where federal agencies control 85 percent of the land.
The confrontation turned ominous as armed supporters gathered on his cattle and melon farm, aiming semi-automatic weapons at armed BLM officials from a bridge overpass. Some protesters were hit with stun guns by authorities and others arrested and later released, including one of Bundy’s 14 adult children.
On April 12, 2014, the BLM ended the standoff, returned Bundy’s confiscated cattle and left the land, citing safety concerns.
2016: The Oregon Wildlife Refuge Standoff
This weekend, armed militia members, including family members of Cliven Bundy, began occupying federal land at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural, eastern Oregon.
The militia members set up a roadblock, and two armed members manned a guard tower that is usually used to spot wildfires. But there was no sign of law enforcement in the area, and local police said they had no intention of going to the scene, not even to keep watch on the militia.
Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon Bundy, one of the occupiers, said Monday the occupying group is called “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom” and its purpose is to “restore and defend the Constitution.”
“It’s important that we stand and people know that we’re serious,” Bundy, 40, said on Good Morning America Monday.
Bundy said Sunday that the group’s actions are not aggressive and there is no damage or criminal activity.
The protest began Saturday as a rally in support of Harney County ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, who reported to prison Monday for arson. The two men were convicted of setting fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), “on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Bundy said Tuesday that he thinks it will be “very soon” when the local community will step up to defend themselves. “Then we will go home,” he said.
Harney County Sheriff’s David Ward’s message to the occupiers Monday: “It’s time for you to leave our community.”
Ward asked them to end the occupation peacefully now that the Hammonds have turned themselves in. Ward said what began as a peaceful protest took “an unfortunate turn when some of those folks broke off and began an armed occupation.”
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