Arizona protesters, militia connected to Oregon standoff

Published: Jan. 4, 2016 at 9:02 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:22 PM MST
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BURNS, OREGON - As the standoff continues in Oregon, we're getting a glimpse of some Arizona players at the center of the storm.

There's Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, militia organizer Blaine Cooper, retired Marine Jon Ritzheimer and self-proclaimed leader of the group, Ammon Bundy, who is well-known around Phoenix.

Today these guys are front and center once again - all willing to stand their ground, apparently to the very end.

Former Phoenix resident Bundy has had his own issues with the federal government over grazing rights.

That's why he, and as many as 150 other protesters, have taken over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, located about 30 miles south of Burns, OR.

"It is the people's facility, owned by the people, and it has been provided for us to be able to come together (as a) unit in making a hard stand against this over-reach," Bundy said via social media.

He's referring to the prison sentences of Dwight and Steven Hammond.

The Oregon father and son were convicted of arson when their prescribed burn blew up and torched 127 acres of federal land.

Both already served time for the 2001 offense.

But in October, a federal judge ruled their terms too short and ordered them both back to prison.

"I'm going to jail for five years for 127 [acres] ... seems like a bit of an overkill," the elder Hammond said late Sunday, Jan. 3.

"Dwight ... he's so old he may die in there," Peoria resident and political extremist Ritzheimer said.

Last May, he organized an armed protest outside the Islamic Center of Phoenix.

As he and other protesters traveled to Oregon last week, Ritzheimer asked 73-year-old Dwight Hammond not to surrender himself to authorities, but to stand up and fight.

"Because it's real simple, Dwight. Do you wanna die in prison labeled as a terrorist by these oppressors?" Ritzheimer said in a video posted to YouTube.  "Or do you want to die out here with us as a free man? I want to die a free man."

While Ritzheimer's comments seem a little more aggressive, the group has said it was wants to remain peaceful and without violence.

By the same token, they've surrounded the facility in Oregon with gunmen and restricted access into and out of the refuge.

It's hard to say how this is going to end.

Talking to media outside the facility in Oregon, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum said, "Let us be civil. Let us be as gentle as possible, but we shall be as firm as necessary."

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