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Report Details Rise of Anti-Government Groups in Oregon

A new report analyzes the rise of anti-government groups in Oregon, including those who took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (BarkWatchdogforMtHood/Flickr)
A new report analyzes the rise of anti-government groups in Oregon, including those who took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (BarkWatchdogforMtHood/Flickr)
October 4, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – A new report details the rise of anti-government groups in Oregon, up to and beyond the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Political Research Associates and the Rural Organizing Project collaborated on Up in Arms: A Guide to Oregon's Patriot Movement.

Lead author Spencer Sunshine, an associate fellow at Political Research Associates, said the goals of the Malheur occupiers were to give public lands over to private owners and overturn environmental protections. He said these groups believe it's one way they can unlock wealth in rural areas that have been in economic decline for decades.

"The economy's changed and that's not going to happen," he said. "Even if they could log every last tree, it would not bring these rural economies back to the position they were in the '50s and '60s. So, it's offering people a kind of false hope in these areas."

He said militia groups were split in the wake of the Malheur occupation, with some supporting the actions taken and others opposed.

Seven of the occupiers are now on trial in federal court in Portland. Ammon Bundy, one of the group's leaders, will likely testify this week.

Jessica Campbell, co-director of the Rural Organizing Project, was in Burns during the Malheur refuge takeover. She said out-of-state judges arrived to set up so-called "common-law courts" near the refuge. She said they operated outside the law, and aimed to indict, convict and sentence anyone whose views or actions they deemed "unconstitutional."

"And they were pretty clear in meetings in town that they were hoping to indict federal employees who work at the Bureau of Land Management or work at the Forest Service," she said. "They wanted to indict the county commissioners; they wanted to indict the Harney County sheriff. And they had also discussed indicting political opponents."

Sunshine added some of these extralegal structures have stayed in place in eastern and southern Oregon counties where anti-government movements are strongest.

"People have established dual power structures," he said. "They have their own courts, they have their own emergency response systems, they have their own paramilitaries. People are declaring themselves their own kind of police officers now. And so, there's a lot of people doing some very extreme things in Oregon, and we felt like this needs to be paid attention to."

The report also looks at local resistance to these movements in five Oregon counties.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR