The standoff between the federal government and the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom near Burns, Oregon. Since January 2, members of the citizens’ group have held the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and granted interviews and press conferences to describe their sympathy with the plight of two Oregon ranchers who were recently returned to prison on federal arson charges. So far, law enforcement has not been seen at the wildlife refuge headquarters, where approximately 25 members of the group have held out.

Founded by Ammon Bundy, rancher whose father – Cliven Bundy – owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the federal government in grazing fees – the armed group has caused some controversy because progressives have sought to show that the apparent reluctance by government to engage is in contrast to the treatment meted out to protesters associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

In an interview with CNN on January 6, one of the leaders of the protest was asked whether he was willing to fire on law enforcement officers. He answered that he would not point guns if no guns were being pointed at him.

Republican presidential candidates have given a measured response to the stand-off. For example, Donald Trump told The Hill, “You have to maintain law and order, no matter what.”

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas not only called for prayers for everyone involved, he also underscored every American’s right to free speech. He said, “But we don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others. And so it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation." "Our prayers right now are with everyone involved,” said Cruz, “in what’s happening with Oregon, and especially those in law enforcement that are risking their lives."

Sen. Marco Rubio, who is trailing the two above in some polls, said on an Iowa radio station, “Let me just say, first of all, you’ve got to follow the law.” Speaking on KBUR on January 4, he added, “You can’t be lawless." Marco Rubio on Monday addressed the armed standoff at a federal building in Oregon, saying the occupiers “can’t be lawless” and should instead pursue elections and other lawful means towards policy change.

Rubio did agree with some of the grievances being aired by Bundy’s group. He said that the federal government owes too much land: “There are states for example like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms of land holding and we should fix it, but no one should be doing it in a way that’s outside the law. We are a nation laws, we should follow those laws and they should be respected.”

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush chimed in to say, "I think it’s wrong. I think it’s inappropriate and they should cease and desist." He added that the federal government should be deferential to the state and local jurisidiction and “shift power back to states and localities — including land.” He warned against continued expansion of government. “There’s no reason to expand the federal government’s control of land,” said Bush. It’s been a disaster. If you got out best you’ll see it. I think people’s frustrations there are ill-served by militia and at the same time I think there needs to be a much different approach as it relates to the western lands issues.”

In the 1970s and 80s the so-called Sagebrush movement also caused confrontations between the federal government and critics of federal land use management. In an interview with E&E Publishing, Prof. Sarah Krakoff - who teaches natural resources law at the University of Colorado said, "I see this as round two" of the Sagebrush Rebellion, "You get these flare-ups and people feeling emboldened as if they can act with impunity." Of the most recent clashes, she added, "There does seem to be something slightly more brazen about it."

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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