The militants occupying an Oregon nature preserve are apparently using women and children as human shields.
Television crews and newspaper photographers have shown women and children visiting the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve, where at least two dozen self-described militiamen have brought their guns and demanded the release of two ranchers sentenced in an arson case.
The militants are also demanding that the Bureau of Land Management turn over the nature preserve to local authorities for private use.
Federal authorities, however, have said they intend to flush out the armed militants by shutting off utility service to the visitors center they took over Saturday evening following a demonstration.
One of the militants' supporters, Joe Oshaugnessy, said in a Facebook post that the government would be to blame if that shutoff caused any harm to the women and children staying on the grounds.
"Just a quick reminder if they do shut down the electricity to the facility they will be shutting off the heat to woman and children who are also at the refuge," Oshaugnessy said. "With temperatures of -16 in the area let's pray they don't."
There's actually no outside forces stopping those women and children -- or the militants, for that matter -- from leaving the nature preserve.
Video, photos and social media posts suggests the armed militants and their supporters have been coming and going freely in the absence of law enforcement agencies at the refuge.
“I got warm hugs and well wishes and they thanked me for coming to see them,” said Maureen Peltier, a disabled National Guard sergeant who writes social media posts for the III Percent movement and other right-wing extremist groups. “Some people are saying it’s so relaxed there, we come and go with or without children.”
The militia group has sent out a call for "snacks" and other supplies and provided a U.S. Postal Service Address to ship those provisions, and some supporters have vowed to travel from out of state to join them.
Oshaugnessy, who doesn't appear to be at Malheur but took part in the standoff at Bundy ranch, even posted Tuesday night that the group had gotten a delivery from "the pizza brigade."
The militants told a BBC reporter that children seen at the refuge were just visitors who were not staying at the site.
Many of the militants -- including ringleader Ammon Bundy -- took part in the armed standoff in 2014 at the Bundy ranch in Nevada, where militants admitted they deployed their own wives and children as human shields.
“We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front,” recalled former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, a popular figure among right-wing extremists who is reportedly at the Oregon standoff. “If they are going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.”
The Oath Keepers, a group of law enforcement and military personnel who vow not to enforce gun laws they deem unconstitutional, strongly cautioned the group against letting women and children visit the standoff.
"Keep women and children off the friggin X," said founder Stewart Rhodes in a post on the Oath Keepers website.
"We have seen news footage showing children present at the Malheur Wildlife Reserve over the past few days," he said. "Apparently they were brought there by their parents while they visited with Ammon and crew. We are told that they are not staying there overnight, but even bringing them for a visit is a mistake."
He said Blaine Cooper, an Arizona man who frequently turns up at anti-Muslim and militia demonstrations, had brought his wife to stay at the nature preserve.
"This is an armed occupation of a government building and the only people staying there should be the armed men who are willing to die there with Ammon Bundy and his brothers and a couple of embedded reporters," Rhodes cautioned. "If adults want to visit them and put themselves at risk, that is their choice, but don’t bring children. If a dozen men die in a shootout, that is one thing, but if children die, there will be a civil war."
But Rhodes' warnings may not carry much weight among the armed militants, who have dismissed the Oath Keepers leader as a fraud after he criticized their takeover of the federally owned building.
A Message From Marine Jon Ritzheimer...................LMFAO!Posted by Blaine Cooper on Monday, November 30, 2015