Ore. county: Refuge occupiers can’t meet at fairgrounds
Burns, Ore. — Officials with the Oregon county where an armed group is occupying a national wildlife refuge have told the group they can’t use county facilities to hold a community meeting.
The armed men plan to hold a meeting Friday evening in Burns to explain themselves and inform residents when they will leave.
The Oregonian reports that officials in Burns, about 30 miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, said the meeting can’t be held at the Harney County fairgrounds or any other county facility.
Organizers of the community meeting have said the meeting will be held even if the county does not provide a location. They did not say where the meeting would be held.
On Wednesday, the county fire chief — a sympathizer of the armed group — resigned over the county’s refusal to host the meeting.
Chris Briels, a member of the Harney County Committee of Safety, announced his resignation surrounded by the cheering anti-government activists. The safety committee, which had previously asked the armed men to leave town, has now offered to take on the cause of the occupiers after they depart. That cause includes turning control of federal land over to local ranchers.
Briels, who said he does not condone violence but agrees with the armed men’s mission, has been fire chief in the community for over 20 years. He said he resigned because he has lost faith in the government and feels intimidated and betrayed by local officials.
Briels said county judge Steve Grasty told him he should distance himself from the committee and the armed group — something Briels said he’s unwilling to do.
Briels isn’t the only local official sympathetic to the armed group’s cause.
Earlier this week, several members of the group occupying the wildlife refuge traveled to neighboring Grant County to ask the sheriff there to travel to Harney County to voice his support.
According to the East Oregonian, Sheriff Glenn Palmer declined. Though Palmer did not directly approve of the occupation, he described the armed men as “patriots” and commended them for bringing government land management issues to light.
Ammon Bundy, the armed group’s leader, has previously said the occupiers would not leave until a plan was in place to turn over federal lands to local authorities. They also want the release of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers convicted of arson who returned to prison earlier this month to serve longer sentences.
The Hammonds’ case set off the occupation on Jan. 2, but the two ranchers have distanced themselves from the armed group.
Federal, state and local law enforcement are monitoring the occupation but have not taken action to remove the armed men. Officials in Harney County warned residents this week that a coyote hunt would start Friday evening near Burns, at the same time the armed refuge occupiers have scheduled their meeting.
The 3rd Annual Harney County Coyote Classic is expecting at least 150-160 people, who will hunt for 48 hours in one-, two- and three-person teams, mostly on private land.
Official said if residents hear gunshots or see spotlights at night, the activity will be coming from the lawful coyote hunt.