Republican presidential hopefuls either carefully criticized the standoff in Oregon or declined to react.
The armed takeover of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Ore., took place Saturday. The takeover was led by Ammon Bundy, son of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy who became famous in 2014 for organizing an armed resistance to federal officials who came to confiscate his herd over several years of unpaid grazing fees.
Republicans were eager to support the elder Bundy’s standoff with federal officials in 2014 until the rancher made several racist remarks to the media. Politicians then quickly moved to distance themselves from him.
This week’s occupation, now in its fourth day, has Republican presidential candidates — some of whom supported the elder Bundy’s crusade — treading carefully.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sided with Cliven Bundy in 2014, claiming “we have seen our liberty under assault.” On Monday, however, he chose different words when speaking to reporters in Iowa.
“Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds. But we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others,” Cruz said. “And so, it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”
The same day, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called Ammon Bundy and the other armed men “lawless.”
“And I agree that there is too much federal control over land, especially out in the western part of the United States,” he told Iowa radio station KBUR. “There are states, for example, like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms of land holding, and we should fix it, but no one should be doing it in a way that’s outside the law.”
Even Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., struck a measured tone.
“I’m sympathetic to the idea that the large collection of federal lands ought to be turned back to the states and the people, but I think the best way to bring about change is through politics,” he told The Washington Post. “That’s why I entered the electoral arena. I don’t support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy.”
Politico reported that Paul held a private meeting with Cliven Bundy in June.
The campaigns for Donald Trump and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush declined to comment, according to Politico. Trump expressed sympathy for Cliven Bundy in 2014, but fell short of endorsing his cause. Nonetheless, Bundy counts himself as a Trump supporter.
A senior adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich tweeted Sunday: “I know a good federal compound for Bundy and his gang: a U.S. penitentiary.” However, NBC News reported on Monday that Kasich himself hadn’t heard about the standoff.
The armed militia is calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. Protester John Reitzheimer told CNN Tuesday: “We came very well prepared. We’re in it for the long haul.”
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