Justice

Militiamen Are Going Through Federal Data In Oregon Building

Militiamen just outside of Burns, Oregon are making their boldest moves yet since illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife National Refuge last week, trolling through federal documents there, and destroying fencing installed by the federal government. 

Leaders of the small band of armed anti-government protesters said that the documents would be used to "expose" discrimination by the government against local ranchers, who use federally-held land to let livestock graze.

Like the group's occupation of the federal building, going through federal documents without license to do so is ostensibly illegal. The anti-government group's ability to access U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees' personal information is also a concern.

Militiamen showed up last week to protest the federal prosecution of two local ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond, who were accused of burning federal land.

Related: Ammon Bundy's Twitter Account Is Probably Not Ammon Bundy

"We have looked through documents, mainly looking for discrimination against the Hammonds. That's what we're looking for, and we have found several different things," Ammon Bundy, a leader and spokesperson for the group told ATTN: in a phone interview late Monday.

Bundy alleges that the group had found evidence showing the deliberate denial of and meddling with grazing permits for the Hammonds, evidence he claims "just confirm[s] a lot of the vindictive [government] behaviors that the Hammonds have been talking about, like actually solid evidence."

Ryan Bundy sits near a bank of computers in a government-owned building

Bundy also claims that the documents were obtained without accessing a bank of computers inside one of the occupied buildings. However, a reporter from Oregon Public Broadcasting on the scene saw at least three computers turned on. OPB reports:

"There are four desks in the office, two on each side. Three of the computers were turned on, and in screen saver mode. Papers in the room were strewn about in a disorderly manner.

"After Finicum realized he shouldn’t have allowed OPB to access the room, he quickly picked up lists of names and Social Security numbers by the computers, and hid government employee ID cards that were previously in plain sight."

Bundy, however, reiterated to ATTN: that the group had not accessed government computers, saying that they "made a promise at the beginning that we would not turn the computers on until the time was right, and that the personal information on those computers would be kept secure."

"We've kept that promise," he added. He explained away the OPB account by saying the groups' personal computers were on and placed on the same desk.

Related: 3 Things You Need to Know About the Crisis in Oregon Right Now

Law enforcement and federal employees voiced concern over the personal information that could have been accessed by the militiamen, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the refuge, instructed some of its employees to temporarily relocate from their homes.

ammon-bundy

Related: Why Oregon Officials Aren't Rushing to Stop the Armed Militiamen

"There is not a stated threat," an agency source told KOIN 6 News.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been in close communication and planning with its employees to ensure that they and their families remain safe," agency spokeswoman Megan Nagel said.

The agency and the Harney County Sheriff's office urged caution after employees reported people from outside the small Burns community slowly driving past their homes, or approaching them at grocery stores. ATTN: reached out to the agency, but a representative could not be reached before publishing this article.

Related: Twitter is Trolling the Oregon Militia Men With Hashtags

The militiamen have repeatedly said they are not seeking any violent engagement with law enforcement, and that they take issue with Bureau of Land Management policies regarding control of federal land there — not necessarily with local control.

Still, the group made what is its boldest move yet, since occupying the buildings in the first place: they used their own equipment to destroy fencing installed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The group said the removal would help a local ranching family by giving its cattle more room to graze.

The Fish and Wildlife service condemned the fence removal in a statement, calling the action "trespassing" and "unlawful." "In the century of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge's existence, enormous effort has been displayed by partners, surrounding communities, ranchers and landowners to restore a devastated landscape," the statement reads.

Asked what he thought about federal agencies condemning the group's wire cutting, Bundy said they had complaints of their own.

"Well they've condemned us for a lot of things," he said, "but we condemn them for building it in the first place; they should not be cutting ranchers' ranges off."