About 30 people met at the Wilco farm store parking lot in northeast Bend on Saturday morning before traveling as a convoy to Burns in protest of two Eastern Oregon ranchers heading back to prison for arson.
By Saturday evening, a group separate from the convoy, some of whom were reportedly involved in the protest in Burns, began occupying Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Building.
Several of the people at the convoy meet-up in Bend Saturday morning came from outside of Central Oregon, and even from out of state.
Darryl Thorn, 31, for example, came from Bremerton, Washington.
“I believe in the Constitution,” Thorn said Saturday, of the convoy: “It’s a peaceful protest. We’re not going to start a war.”
People involved in planning Saturday’s convoy included members of the Bundy family of Nevada, who have had standoffs with the federal government over Bureau of Land Management land, a militia group called the Three Percenters and a local group, the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard.
Jim Hicks, 74, traveled from Grants Pass to take part. Hicks also said he believes in the Constitution and that he’s participated in a lot of these types of events.
“You stop and look at the Hammond family and what the BLM has done to them,” Hicks said, shaking his head.
Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, are the ranchers returning to jail; the father and son said they started fires in 2001 and 2006 to protect their land from wildfires, according to The Associate Press.
Leading the meet-up in Bend on Saturday was Andrew Bedortha, 27, of Bend. Bedortha said he is one of the founders of the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard.
“We’re here to stand with the Hammond family,” Bedortha said.
His friend, Breana Carico, 22, of Eugene, also showed up to join the convoy.
“I’m just out here today to support the Hammonds,” said Carico, who identifies as a Three Percenter (reportedly named for the three percent of colonialists who acted as revolutionaries against the British) and militia leader.
Many of those involved in the convoy Saturday were made aware of the event by a call to action from the Bundy family. But according to AP reports, “The Hammonds have not welcomed the Bundys’ help.”
Bill Goode, 68, who came to Bend from Kingman, Arizona, identified himself as a friend of the Hammond family. He believes the Hammonds weren’t opposed to the convoy rally, and they just didn’t want to be involved.
The Hammonds each served time for arson three years ago, but now, a judge ruled those terms were too short. The men were ordered to return to prison Monday, and Dwight Hammond said he and his son plan to do so peacefully, according to AP.
By about 10 a.m. Saturday, Bedortha was calling everyone together for the departure. The group of mostly men and a few women gathered around him. A couple people waved flags stating “Don’t tread on me,” but many had their hands in their coat pockets to keep warm.
Saturday evening, Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy (the patriarch of the family at the head of past confrontations with the BLM in Nevada), was among those occupying the refuge building, according to The Associated Press.
Bedortha said in a phone call Saturday evening he and others involved in the convoy earlier that day were not involved in the occupation at the refuge building, explaining “that wasn’t our purpose.”
“That is just the splinter group,” Bedortha said of those occupying the building. “It’s just a small fringe element; we have nothing to do with them.”
Bedortha said the Hammonds are not at the refuge building either, and that what the people there are doing “has nothing to do with the Hammonds, it’s of their own accord.”
Bedortha said he believed a few of the people at the refuge now may have participated in the protest in Burns, but the majority were already at the building at that time.
Goode was with the Hammonds for about an hour Saturday. He also said the Hammond family isn’t involved in the break-in at the refuge building.
“The Hammonds are not supportive of it,” Goode said.
Earlier Saturday in Bend, on the corner of Greenwood Avenue and 27th Street, a group of about a dozen people stood with signs in a kind of peaceful counterprotest, facing traffic as it passed.
Among them were local activists and Central Oregon residents, including Greg Delgado and Michael Funke.
“We are exercising our democratic right to express our opposition and concerns about the militia,” Funke said.
Delgado made clear that they aren’t necessarily against militia members, but that the message of the Constitution shouldn’t be co-opted from the rest of the community by one particular group, especially when that group is made up of many people who aren’t from Bend, or even Central Oregon.
Funke and Delgado said everyone in their group lives in Central Oregon.
Delgado added that some militia people had come over to shake hands, and he felt there was a sense of understanding during the interaction. Still, Funke pointed out what he believes to be discrepancy in the militia movement.
“I think it’s important to recognize that, with the militia, on the one hand they’re saying they stand for the Constitution, on the other hand they appear to want to pick a fight with the BLM wherever they go,” Funke said. “I find that to be a contradictory message.”
At about 10:15 a.m., Bend Police Chief Jim Porter came over to shake hands with those holding signs promoting peace.
“They already left,” Porter said of the convoy group, “so I hope you guys won’t stick around here freezing.”
A few members of the group let out cheers, and Porter thanked them for keeping things calm.
“Both sides have First Amendment rights,” Porter said, “we just ask that it’s done in a peaceful, reasonable manner.”
He added that both sides “were extremely respectful of each other.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org