BURNS, Ore. – A conservative radio talk show host from Cincinnati is making national news as a spokesperson for the small, armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Pete Santilli, who hosts his “The Pete Santilli Show” online, has joined the group and is defending their actions.
The group is protesting a lengthy prison sentence for two local ranchers convicted of arson of federal land.
“The federal government has been terrorizing ranchers, now they’ve spun that into these guys being terrorists," he told the Huffington Post. "They’re actually defending the land that has been taken."
The group objects to federal land policy and seized buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon on Saturday. Authorities have not yet moved to remove the group of roughly two dozen people, some from as far away as Arizona and Michigan.
Santilli describes himself on Twitter as:
“Proud 'Leave-Me-The-Heck-Alone-ist' Don't mess with me. Don't take my stuff. Exposing violations of our Constitutional rights; especially the Police-State's”
He pinned the following message on his Twitter and Facebook page:
A message to our followers --- We are on the ground in Burns Oregon --- As always there is much rumor and speculation about what is happening there. As of now law enforcement has shown known aggression and the place is mostly occupied by national media. Please pray for those on the ground.
Santilli posted an hour and 22 minute video of the scene in Oregon on YouTube Tuesday, showing several members of the armed group.
Schools were closed following the seizure of the refuge because of safety concerns in this small town in eastern Oregon's high desert country and tensions have risen. Harney County Sheriff David Ward told the hundreds gathered at the meeting he hoped the community would put up a "united front" to peacefully resolve the conflict.
Group leader Ammon Bundy has told reporters they will leave when there's a plan in place to turn over federal lands to locals.
Like the Bundys, Santilli isn't from Burns, Oregon. Ward has said the militants have "alternative motives."
Several people spoke in support of Bundy and his followers at Wednesday's meeting.
"They are waking people up," said 80-year-old Merlin Rupp, a long-time local resident. "They are just making a statement for us, to wake us up."
Earlier Wednesday the leader of an American Indian tribe that regards the preserve as sacred issued a rebuke to Ammon's group, saying they are not welcome at the snowy bird sanctuary and must leave.
"The protesters have no right to this land. It belongs to the native people who live here," Burns Paiute Tribal leader Charlotte Rodrique said.
Bundy is demanding that the refuge be handed over to locals.
The standoff in rural Oregon is a continuation of a long-running dispute over federal policies covering the use of public lands, including grazing. The federal government controls about half of all land in the West. For example, it owns 53 percent of Oregon, 85 percent of Nevada and 66 percent of Utah, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Bundy family is among many people in the West who contend local officials could do a better job of managing public lands than the federal government.