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Oregon Lawmakers Table Bill Creating Crime Of 'Militia Terrorism'

<p>Ammon Bundy at a stretch of fence at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Monday, Jan. 11. The armed occupiers of the refuge took down an 80-foot stretch of the fence to open up the lands to cattle from a nearby ranch.</p>

Anna King

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Ammon Bundy at a stretch of fence at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Monday, Jan. 11. The armed occupiers of the refuge took down an 80-foot stretch of the fence to open up the lands to cattle from a nearby ranch.

Oregon lawmakers won't vote on a measure that would create a new crime called "militia terrorism." That announcement came from a key lawmaker Wednesday during a hearing on the bill, which drew plenty of opposition.

The measure defines "militia terrorism" as happening when at least three people occupy publicly owned premises and at least one of them is armed and sticks around for at least 48 hours after being told to leave.

Sound familiar? Julie Collins was one of several people who testified against the measure by calling it a "knee-jerk reaction" to the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.

"This bill does nothing more than attempt to make criminals out of citizens: hard-working, tax-paying, voting citizens," she said. "This bill is meant to put boots on the necks of people who have something to say."

The bill was introduced at the request of former state Sen. Charlie Ringo, who didn't testify at the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The chair of that panel, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said the bill won't be scheduled for a vote. He said Ringo wasn't available to testify in favor of the measure due to a death in his family. The former lawmaker now practices law in Bend and could not be reached for comment.

No one testified in favor of the measure. Opponents included groups on both the political right and the political left. B. J. Soper, the co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network, submitted written testimony that called the measure "an anti-gun, feel-good bandaid," that "does nothing to address the root cause of the issue that triggered the Malheur occupation."

And Dan Meek of the Oregon Progressive Party called the bill "poorly drafted" in his own written testimony. He wrote that he's worried the proposal could make people guilty by association.

"One wonders whether opponents of a sit-in protest might infiltrate into it a person with a gun in order to render all of the other protesters (perhaps hundreds or more) into Class C felons," Meek wrote.

By closing the hearing without a vote, Prozanski rendered the bill dead for the 2017 legislative session.

More than two dozen refuge occupiers were charged with federal charges in connection with the takeover. The leaders of the occupation, brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were acquitted of federal conspiracy charges last year. Another jury convicted four other occupiers on felony charges earlier this year.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Chris Lehman covers the Oregon state capitol for JPR as part of the Northwest News Network, a group of 12 Northwest public radio organizations which collaborate on regional news coverage. Chris graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He began his career producing arts features for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been a reporter/announcer for NPR station WNIJ in DeKalb, Illinois. Chris has also reported from overseas, filing stories from Iraq, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe and Uganda.