SALT LAKE CITY — As armed members of a militia group continue to occupy a federal building in Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement Monday condemning the action.
Acting as one of the faces of the group before the media is Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose family and supporters were involved in an armed standoff with federal agents over grazing rights in 2014. Known members of the LDS Church, Cliven Bundy and his family have often said they believe God was involved in aspects of the 2014 standoff.
In response to media inquires to the LDS Church regarding the situation in Oregon, the church issued the following statement Monday afternoon:
While the disagreement occurring in Oregon about the use of federal lands is not a Church matter, Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles. This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. We are privileged to live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can — and should — be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land.
As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune in September 2012, LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks cautioned members of the church during a regional broadcast against joining or supporting potential “right-wing groups who mistakenly apply prophecies about the last days to promote efforts to form paramilitary or other organizations.”
He further stated that such groups can “undermine the authority of public officials … in the event of extraordinary emergencies or even in cases of simple disagreement with government policy.”
According the the LDS Church’s “Articles of Faith,” which covers 13 basic tenets of the Mormon faith, the 12th Article states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”
The militia took over a building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, Saturday, following a protest over the sentencing of Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46, by a federal court.
Ammon Bundy told reporters the Hammonds had been treated unfairly.
The Hammonds were convicted of arson three years ago for fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006, one of which was set to cover up deer poaching, according to prosecutors. They said they lit the fires to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires.
The men served their original sentences —three months for Dwight Hammond and one year for Steven Hammond — but an appeals court judge ruled the terms fell short of minimum sentences that require them to serve about four more years.
Their sentences have been a rallying cry for the group, whose primarily male members said they want federal lands turned over to local authorities so people can use them free of federal oversight.
The Hammonds turned themselves over to the custody of federal officials Monday to serve out their sentences in California.
Also according The Associated Press, the Hammonds have distanced themselves from the group.
The Bundys and others argue that the federal government has no right under the Constitution to control public lands, and therefore have chosen not to recognize its authority, or the authority of managing agencies like the Bureau of Land Management.
They claim the states are the rightful owners and managers of the lands and that the federal government should surrender control to the states.
Also standing with the group in Oregon at the wildlife refuge is Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, who told St. George News last year that he was following Cliven Bundy’s example and no longer paying his grazing fees to the BLM.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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