On Saturday an estimated 300 protesters meandered a mile from a Safeway parking lot in Burns, Ore. to the home of Dwight Hammond, one of two Hammond men now serving a federal sentence for arson on federal lands.
The crowd had traveled to southeastern Oregon from as far away as Florida, Montana and Idaho to show their support for the Hammonds, a family many out West had come to see as the symbol of long-simmering land disputes between the feds and ranchers. The protesters sang the Star Spangled Banner, waved American flags and carried their homemade, cardboard signs. Some brought the Hammonds cellophane-wrapped blush and yellow flowers and stuck them in a snow bank outside the family's house.
Quickly, however, the protest in Burns transformed from a peaceful demonstration to an armed takeover. One observer told Talking Points Memo that from atop a snow bank in the Safeway parking lot Ammon Bundy ordered protesters to get in their cars and follow him 30 miles away to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge -- the name translated from the French means "misfortune" or "tragedy."
For outside observers, the choice to take a dramatic stand against the federal government at a wildlife refuge in about as close to the middle of nowhere as you can get in the Lower 48 seemed, well, odd. The small stone cottage that serves as the refuge's visitors center and was unoccupied over the holiday weekend hardly cuts the profile of a modern day Alamo. But a closer look at the history of the Hammonds' long contentious land disputes with the federal government shows that Malheur has been at the center of those confrontations, with Dwight Hammond allegedly making repeated death threats against the refuge's managers.
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