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Protesters led by Cliven Bundy's son occupy a building at Oregon wildlife refuge

Protesters led by Cliven Bundy's son occupy a building at Oregon wildlife refuge
Protesters march on Court Avenue in Burns, Ore., in support of members of a ranching family facing jail time for arson. (Les Zaitz / Associated Press)

A peaceful protest march Saturday in support of an eastern Oregon ranching family facing jail time for arson was followed shortly afterward by an occupation of a building at a national wildlife refuge.

Ammon Bundy, the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with the federal government over grazing rights, told the Oregonian newspaper that he and two of his brothers were among dozens of people occupying the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The protests are on behalf of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, who were convicted of setting fires that they say were intended to protect their property.

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Bundy posted a video on his Facebook page asking for people to come help him. Below the video is this statement: "ALL PATRIOTS ITS TIME TO STAND UP NOT STAND DOWN!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!! COME PREPARED."

Bundy said the group planned to stay at the refuge indefinitely. "We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely," he said. "This is not a decision we've made at the last minute."

An Idaho militia leader who helped organize the march that preceded the building occupation said he knew nothing about the parade of militia members and local residents who walked past the sheriff's office and the Hammonds' home.

Cliven Bundy told Oregon Public Broadcasting on Saturday night that he had nothing to do with the takeover of the building. He said his son felt obligated to intervene on behalf of the Hammonds.

"That's not exactly what I thought should happen, but I didn't know what to do," he said. "You know, if the Hammonds wouldn't stand, if the sheriff didn't stand, then, you know, the people had to do something. And I guess this is what they did decide to do. I wasn't in on that."

He said Ammon told him the group was committed to staying in the building.

"He told me that they were there for the long run. I guess they figured they're going to be there for whatever time it takes -- and I don't know what that means," he said. "I asked him, 'Well, ... how long you going to stand out there?' He just told me it was for long-term."

Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, said the agency was aware of the situation at the national wildlife refuge, but she made no further comment.

Some local residents feared the Saturday rally would involve more than speeches, flags and marching. But little else materialized, except songs, flowers and tossed pennies.

As marchers reached the courthouse, they tossed hundreds of pennies at the locked door. Their intended message: Civilians were buying back their government. After the march passed, two girls swooped in to scavenge the coins.

A few blocks away, Dwight Hammond and his wife, Susan, greeted marchers, who planted flower bouquets in the snow. They sang some songs, Hammond said a few words, and the protesters marched back to their cars.

Hammond has said he and his son plan to report to prison Monday as ordered by a judge.

Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, said they set fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.

The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time — Dwight three months, and Steven a year. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.

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The decision has generated controversy in a remote part of the state.

In particular, the Hammonds' new sentences touched a nerve with far-right groups who repudiate federal authority.

Ammon Bundy and a handful of militiamen from other states arrived last month in Burns, about 60 miles from the Hammond ranch.

In an email to supporters, Bundy criticized the U.S. government for a failed legal process.

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