An armed group that has taken over a national wildlife refuge to protest federal land use policies continues to escalate the situation by introducing a common law grand jury, which has no actual legal standing. They have chosen Joaquin Mariano DeMoreta-Folch, St. Augustine Tea Party government accountability chairman and a longtime proponent of convening secret citizens’ panels to indict government officials to be their common law judge and at a recent event held at the refuge a New Mexico rancher, Adrian Sewell of Grant County, New Mexico, renounced his federal grazing contract from the U.S. Forest Service.
Oregon officials want the militia to leave, saying it’s been far past time for the occupation to end. But it doesn’t look like the leader of the militia, Ammon Bundy, is ready to end the stand-off.
Bundy walked out of a private meeting with a federal agent on Friday after the agent refused to speak in the presence of media, according to the Associated Press. Bundy also questioned the FBI authority, telling an agent, “If you haven’t got sanction from the sheriff, there’s no reason to be talking to you.”
On Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the occupation was costly to taxpayers and sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch telling them to end the occupation of federal land “as safely and as quickly as possible.”
Earlier this month, Oregon Sheriff Dave Ward met Ammon Bundy in a near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Ward encouraged Bundy to leave town and told Bundy he would offer “safe escort out.” Bundy and the group of armed men he leads have threatened to kill law enforcement if they try to intervene, so this offer, while intended to spare human lives, is fairly extraordinary when compared to other protests.
Yet, Bundy lectured the sheriff on the constitution and said the armed men would stay there indefinitely. According to OregonLive, Bundy told the sheriff, “Until we can see that there is a great momentum and the people can get doing that themselves, then we will remain … That could be a week, that could be a year.” After their discussion, the group bulldozed a fence that divided private ranchlands from public land and damaged Native American archeological sites. Last week, two members of the militia were arrested after driving two federal vehicles to a local Safeway.
It doesn’t look like the situation will deescalate soon considering what the armed group that has been occupying federal land for a few weeks are asking for. The militia, which has partnered with a well-known conspiracy theorist, wants to create an alternative legal system in the region that would replace Harney County’s elected leaders and sheriff with those who support the sovereign citizen movement. The movement is a group of people who believe they are not subject to the laws and orders of the federal government. If local officials govern closely to federal government rules their authority is moot, according to the movement’s ideology.