MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We start the program today in Oregon, where armed protesters have occupied the headquarters of a National Wildlife Refuge. The protesters, reacting to a social media call out to members of different militia groups say they are opposing what they call excessive government restrictions on the use of public land and say they plan to use the complex as a base for years if necessary. Amanda Peacher of Oregon Public Broadcasting is near the sight, and she's with us now. Amanda, how many protesters are on this complex, and have they made any specific demands?
AMANDA PEACHER, BYLINE: The protesters are not being clear about how many militiamen are on the complex in general. But I saw in person somewhere between 15 and 18 total here on the property. They say they want to return these federal lands, the Wildlife Refuge, to local control and to the people. They claim that the lands were unconstitutionally purchased by the federal government outside of its authority around 1998. Ammon Bundy, one of the leaders here of the protest, called the Refuge a tool of tyranny - though it's not exactly clear how they want to return the land and this facility to local control. But they do say that they intend to be here until they do whatever it takes to achieve that.
MARTIN: What exactly set this off?
PEACHER: So there was an incident with two local rangers here in Harney County who were prosecuted for arson. And they were convicted under federal courts and are slated to go to prison on Monday. Now, many local people here felt that the five-year prison sentence they were convicted for was too harsh. And the protesters feel that the federal government has overreached in convicting these two ranchers of arson. So the ranchers scheduled to appear in prison on Monday is what brought the protesters here originally. Obviously, this is a much larger issue and a much larger point of contention for the protesters here now taking over a federal facility. The two rangers, I will point out, did not condone the acts of these protesters in taking over the National Wildlife Refuge facilities here.
MARTIN: Now, you mention the name of one person, Ammon Bundy. I understand that he's the son of Cliven Bundy, a name that many people might remember from a standoff with the federal government in 2014 over grazing rights. Tell me about them if you - what's their role in this? Are they from this area, or did they just travel there for the purpose of staging this standoff?
PEACHER: They are from southern Nevada. They traveled here specifically for this standoff and chose the Malheur Wildlife Refuge because of the history of this place and because they say that bringing it back into local control will bring economic wealth back to the area. There are three Bundy brothers here on site. Cliven Bundy, as far as I know, is not here. But he says that he is monitoring the situation here and is in contact with his sons.
MARTIN: Has there been any response from law enforcement or federal officials to this so far?
PEACHER: Well, I've been around the Refuge most of the morning and I have not seen a single law enforcement vehicle, although we are hearing that the state police is planning to respond to the incident sometime tomorrow. And county law enforcement here in Harney County has said that they discourage people from coming to the area and that they are monitoring the situation. But that's all we know about the response so far.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, Amanda, what's been the reaction to the community there as far as you can tell? Now, you already told us that the people at the center of this say that they don't condone this particular action. Have you had any sense of what other people in the area think about all this?
PEACHER: Well, there are some locals here in Harney County who support the group's anti-government message. And we have seen some folks dropping off food and even a pot of warm chili for the protesters here. But many, many local residents I've spoken with are very worried about this escalating into violence. They say they don't want this in their area, and they feel that Harney County - rural Harney County is an inappropriate place to take on the federal government.
MARTIN: Thanks, Amanda.
PEACHER: You're welcome.
MARTIN: That's reporter Amanda Peacher of Oregon Public Broadcasting.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.