Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Occupiers want U.S. to surrender all federal lands

Protesters holding the bird sanctuary southeast of here want every county in the U.S. to start a process giving back federal land to the previous owners. They expect that process to start in Harney County with a citizens group processing deeds, according to Ryan Payne, a self-styled militiaman and a key leader of the refuge occupation that started two weeks ago. In an interview, Payne provided the most clear statement yet about what the occupiers want to achieve. They now call themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. Besides stripping land from federal control, Ryan said the group wants ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, released from federal prison immediately. He said the group wants to see a citizen inquest investigate the Hammonds' prosecution and report to the public on allegations of abuses by the government. The Hammond case is what drew Payne and his fellow protesters to the high desert of southeast Oregon. The Hammonds, longtime Harney County ranchers, were convicted in 2012 on federal arson charges for burning public land. They served prison terms after their trial, but had to return to prison Jan. 4 to serve their full five-year sentences when an appellate court declared the original shorter sentences illegal. The protesters hoped to spare the Hammonds prison by arranging sanctuary in Harney County. The Hammonds rejected that idea, voluntarily surrendering to a federal prison in California. The protesters haven't let up on their support of the Hammonds and subsequently expanded their objectives to a much larger ambition to change public land ownership...more

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