BURNS (Oregon) • Many residents of a small Oregon town have distanced themselves from self-styled militiamen who occupied a remote wildlife refuge centre over the weekend to protest against the federal government's role in managing millions of hectares of public land.
The flashpoint for last Saturday's takeover of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside the town of Burns, Oregon, was the imminent incarceration of ranchers Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, a father and son found guilty of arson on public land near their property that prosecutors said was intended to cover up evidence of poaching.
Many in Burns, home to 3,000 people, said they viewed the occupation as the work of outsiders. Harney County Sheriff David Ward demanded on Monday that the protesters end the siege, telling them: "It's time for you to leave our community."
The Hammonds, who turned themselves in on Monday, said they do not support the protesters or their leader Ammon Bundy, who said they aim "to restore and defend the Constitution" to protect the rights of ranchers and ignite debate over federal land-use policy in hopes the federal authorities would release tracts of Western land.
But the militiamenseem to have made a tactical error - potential allies say they picked the wrong battle. The call to arms has failed to resonate with like-minded groups.
"There's a better way to go about things," said Mr Brandon Curtiss, president of Three Percent of Idaho, a militia group that has been involved in the dispute. "You need to get the county citizens behind you to go through the proper channels."
The protest has also reignited debate on social media about policing, race and terrorism, reported the New York Times, as netizens speculated that the so-far unmoved authorities would have been more forceful if the armed men were Muslim or black. Some also wondered why the news media and the authorities were not calling the occupation a form of terrorism.