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Eye On Boise

Idaho Rep. Labrador calls Burns protesters ‘peaceful’ practitioners of ‘civil disobedience’

Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador (AP file / Jacquelyn Martin)
Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador (AP file / Jacquelyn Martin)

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador is drawing attention today for defending the armed protesters who took over an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge as “peaceful” practitioners of “civil disobedience.” At a “Conversations with Conservatives” event on Capitol Hill today hosted by the Heritage Foundation, Labrador was asked about the standoff.

The Hill, a Washington, D.C. newspaper that covers Congress, reported that Labrador’s response “stood in contrast to those of many Republicans who have condemned the protests that began Saturday night at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge” near Burns, Ore. The paper quoted Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden, whose district includes the refuge, telling Congress he believed the takeover was “not appropriate” and calling on the protesters to “go home.” It also quoted GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump, all of whom condemned the protests. “We don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others,” Cruz said.

Labrador said, “The issue in the West that people here in the East don’t understand is that we have, in Idaho it’s over 65 percent of our lands are owned by the federal government. It’s the same thing in most of the states in the West. And what we have is frustration, where you have the BLM, we have other federal agencies that keep taking over the lands.”

He decried the five-year prison sentences for arson handed down to two Burns area ranchers, prompting the protests, and noted that though a federal judge found that long of a sentence inappropriate, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned him, ruling that that was what federal sentencing laws required. “It’s one of the reasons that I actually have embarked into sentencing reform,” Labrador said. “This is the prototypical case where a judge would have been able to make a decision that was just and fair, as opposed to having the sentencing guidelines say that you must go to prison for five years for a particular crime. And so you have all the frustration happening with the takeover of the lands by the federal government, with an unjust sentence, and you have just a frustration that they feel the federal government is not listening to them.”

“And that’s what leads to what so far has been a peaceful takeover of an abandoned building, by the way,” Labrador said. “And I think the media is quick to sort of cast aspersions on that group of people, but you’ll have a person in the middle of a crowded field yell ‘Allahu Akbar’ and actually shoot at people, and the media says, ‘Wait a second, we should not make any judgments here.’ But these people, what they have done so far, and hopefully they will continue to do it in a peaceful way, they are trying to express their frustrations. And I think civil disobedience has been something that for the most part the liberal media used to stand up for, but apparently there’s some exceptions to that, and that’s when conservatives and pro-Second Amendment people are trying to exercise that same right of civil disobedience.”

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-New Mexico, noted a distinction between the Bundy brothers who are leading the armed takeover, and Dwight and Steven Hammond, the two ranchers now serving the prison term on arson charges for burning public land. “I’m not taking a side on the Bundys - I think that’s a side show,” Pearce said. “I think the Hammonds are the ones in the West that have been badly treated.”

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, said he agrees with Labrador on sentencing reform, but noted, “We have the power to fix it in Congress. … We can blame the court, but this is a law that we have caused. We can fix this. … I hope we do fix it. We could fix this next week, the Senate could fix it probably a week later, and the president could sign it.”

You can read The Hill’s full article here, and see the full video of the exchange online here; it begins about 23 minutes into the video. My full story is online here at


Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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