Earlier this month, officials with the Bureau of Land Management sent a letter ordering local miners working at the Sugar Pine Mining Claim in the Galice Mining District near Merlin, OR to vacate the property that locals have mined for the past 139 years. Raw Story notes the fact that the owners of the claim subsequently contacted the Oath Keepers of Josephine County, an organization of ex-and-current military and law enforcement professionals who have sworn an oath to refuse orders that violate the US Constitution, who then called for militia members from around the country to gather at the mining claim in order to ensure that the Bureau of Land Management respects the miners’ Fifth Amendment right to due process.
As armed Oath Keepers began to gather at the site on Tuesday, SWAT vehicles were seen staging nearby, raising fears that a Bundy ranch style standoff might take place.
The dispute centers around the Sugar Pine Mining Claim itself, which Congress set aside for local miners in 1876, allowing them to establish their own rules and regulations. KDRV-TV notes that the Bureau of Land Management says that the claim does not allow the miners to sidestep its regulatory authority as the claim has changed hands in the past, but locals say that the claim’s community regulatory system has been grandfathered in and that, absent intervention through a specific process by the Department of the Interior, BLM lacks the authority to regulate the mines. The Galice Mining District Executive Committee said in a statement, “Under the 1955 Surface Resources Act, claims of this age have exclusive surface rights unless the Department of Interior utilized a mechanism outlined in that Act to sever those surface rights. Demands to BLM to produce evidence of their surface authority in accordance to the 1955 Act have thus far garnered only ‘because we say so’ answers and numerous stonewalling tactics. The Stop Orders came after several months of back and forth maneuvering from both sides, and are clearly retaliatory in nature.”
The stakes are high, as The Blaze notes that the Galice Mining District has already yielded over 10 million ounces of gold, with experts saying that 90 million more ounces are available to be extracted.
An unconfirmed report cited by The Shasta Lantern claims that “local BLM officials have threatened to burn the buildings down if they are not removed by [April 25].” Locals fear that the Bureau of Land Management will attempt to seize the property before the owners of the mines get the opportunity to defend themselves in court.
Arizona State Militia member Blaine Cooper said in a YouTube clip that he posted while on his way to the Galice Mining District, “That’s what being an American’s all about… We don’t allow our neighbor to be enslaved or beaten or tortured by government jackboots because they want to steal our land and our resources to keep us under their thumb.”
Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel has been attempting to mediate the dispute between the two parties and said he would step in if the tensions escalated.
Jim Whittington, an official with the Bureau of Land Management, said that BLM does not intend to seize the land without due process. Said Whittington to KDRV-TV, “We’ve sent them those letters. They also have the right to appeal our notice, that it requires either a plan of operation or notice, and some informal contacts with their lawyer… it sounds like they may appeal. So if they appeal, that starts another administrative appeal process.”
Oath Keepers representative Mary Emerick said, “We defend the Constitution… And we are here just to make sure that they receive their Fifth Amendment rights which is due process… Sometimes that’s going to take days or even weeks, and we are preparing for this to potentially last that long.”
A statement on the website of the Oath Keepers of Josephine County which calls for help from Oath Keepers from around the country says, “NOTICE: This is NOT a standoff with BLM. We are NOT promoting any confrontation with BLM. This is a security operation for the protection of Constitutional Rights. If you have a different agenda outside of the above peaceful mission statement, we don’t need your assistance. Please DO NOT make any type of threatening phone calls to the local BLM or USFS as it undermines our mission, professionalism and is unwarranted. Thank you.”
Update April 16, 3:54 PM: The title of this article has been slightly modified to improve its readability.