Since the Bundy brothers and their armed followers took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2, protesting federal land management, they've insisted they're in it for the long haul.
But opponents have figured out how to make the ranchers' resilience work against them, raising $78,000 in just over a week to go to causes "antithetical" to the occupation. Those include the refuge itself, which many Oregonians and bird watchers around the world are anxious to see returned to public use and government protection. The catch: donors pledge by the day, meaning that the longer the Bundys hold out, the more money collected.
"Let's turn the illegal Malheur NWR occupation against itself!" says the homepage of G.O.H.O.M.E., or "Getting the Occupiers of Historic Oregon Malheur Evicted." The site was created by Zach and Jake Klonoski, the sons of US District Court Judge Ann Aiken, who ruled that father-son ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond had served too short a sentence for earlier arson charges. The decision to return them to jail was the occupiers' original rallying cry, but the Hammonds have cooperated with police and distanced themselves from Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, as the armed protesters call themselves.
The sons say that their mother's position has nothing to do with the fundraiser. Raised in Oregon, where Zach still lives and works for the Portland Mayor's office, the pair "care deeply about my state, and about upholding the rule of law and having a reasonable debate about issues, not taking up arms against the government," Zach says in a phone interview.
For weeks, fans of the Bundys have been encouraged to donate money and supplies through Facebook and Twitter accounts, sending shipments directly to the refuge or sending funds online. A Facebook page for their supporters compares the occupiers' plight to George Washington's struggle to supply soldiers in winter during the American Revolution.
Opposition to the occupiers' tactics, if not all of their complaints, has been strong in Oregon from Day 1, with locals telling the Bundys to "go home" at town meetings last week. Many are scared of violence, or simply want the commotion to die down. Federal agents working on the case have released little information about efforts to diffuse the stand-off.
Apart from protests in Portland, that left opponents with few ways to vent their frustrations. Many say that federal management is the best way to protect "the people's" right to the land, balancing needs like ranching, conservation, and protecting sacred sites of the Burns Paiute Tribe, who have worried that artifacts stored at the refuge could be damaged by occupiers.
The Klonoskis' fundraiser poses a direct challenge to occupation organizers: the longer they stay, the more money is raised for the Paiute Tribe; Friends of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun control organization founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords; and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups in the US.
Donors can give a lump sum, which is immediately divided evenly between the four groups, or pledge a per-day sum, collected at the end of the stand off. As of Monday afternoon, more than $78,000 has been pledged by more than 1,500 people, most of them from Oregon.
"The whole state is overwhelmingly opposed to what’s going on there. It’s a handful of anti-government radicals who are heavily armed and from out of state," Zach Klonoski says. "This is not something we do in an organized society. You don’t pick up guns, and hold public lands and public buildings hostage to make a point. That’s not how you do democracy, that’s not how you do politics."
But occupiers' belief that they represent American freedom, however, seem to have motivated many of them to pick up and come to Burns, sometimes leave jobs and families behind. Some appear to return home to work for a few days, then return to the protest.
"People come, contribute, and then they leave when they need to," Melissa Carter told Oregon Public Broadcasting. Ms. Carter is one of a small group of women at the refuge who take care of cooking and other logistics. Some are married to protesters; others came on their own.
They're willing to sacrifice their time, jobs, and money to defend what they feel are fundamental principals, often citing the Constitution. But ultimately, they say those values go beyond the government. "Our Rights Do Not Come from Government. We Are Born With Them," says one supporter's Facebook page. They say public land use, without government interference, is one such right.
But to many, the patchwork finances and membership seem unsustainable. "The right-wing extremist movement is broke," Anti-Defamation League expert Mark Pitcavage, who has been researching the Malheur occupier members, told OregonLive.
"$70,000 is great, but we want this to end peacefully," and as soon as possible, Mr. Klonoski says. But he and his brother hope that their tactic, inspired by one German town's response to Neo-Nazis, will be adopted in future situations.
"We’re hoping that this campaign can be a model for shouting down this type of tactic: a small number of radical actors. If they ever do this again, we can have this model in place so we can start raising money right away so they realize how futile their actions are," he says. "People will stand up in every state and say we don’t want this to happen next in our state."
Editor's Note: The original version of this story misstated Mark Pitcavage's affiliation. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.