NEW YORK – A group of self-styled militiamen occupying the headquarters of a U.S. national wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon to protest the imminent imprisonment of two ranchers took to social media on Monday to drum up support for their cause.
As the standoff with law enforcement authorities entered its third day, the group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, was active on Twitter.
“As I said on @CNN this morning, I love my wife & family,” said one recent post that was retweeted 76 times. “I have no plans nor desire to die. We are peaceful people. #OccupyMalheur.”
A Facebook page associated with the Bundy family ranch featured numerous sympathetic posts and videos and was garnering hundreds of “likes” per hour.
The occupation, which began on Saturday, followed a march in Burns, a small city about 80 km north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in support of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond, who were convicted in 2012 of setting fires that spread to public land.
“I’m going to tell you people, we need all your support because if we don’t get it, we’re not going to have a country at all,” Ken Rhoads, a Michigan rancher who traveled to support the ranchers in Oregon, said in a video posted by the Facebook community “Bundy Ranch,” which has received more than 2,000 likes. The Hammonds, speaking through their attorney, have disassociated themselves from the occupation.
The Bundy Ranch page is associated with Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher and Ammon Bundy’s father. The Bundys have had previous disputes with federal land management officials.
However, not all the responses on the Bundy Ranch page were supportive of their cause.
“You do NOT speak for the majority of law abiding citizens,” said a response to the Rhoads video from a Facebook user under the name Kevin Carroll, which had received more than 300 likes. “This can only end badly for you and your misguided followers.”
The takeover in Oregon drew criticism on social media, with some users asking if the occupiers would have been treated differently if they had been black or Muslim.
At the same time, a debate raged on social media about whether Bundy’s group should be called militiamen, as they have labeled themselves, or domestic terrorists.
Nicknames ridiculing the group were trending heavily on Twitter. Several popular hashtags played off common Islamic extremist labels, including #YallQaeda, #YeeHawdists, #VanillaISIS and #YokelHaram.
“Why are we calling the #YallQaeda group in #Oregon “militia” and not “terrorists?” #OregonUnderAttack” wrote Twitter user Josie Richardson (@josie_kathleen) on Monday.
Twitter user @SuperRG1 wrote: “What would we be saying if the people occupying the wildlife refuge building in Oregon were Muslims? #bundymilitia #OregonUnderAttack”