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Lawmaker: I Support Militia's Ideas, Not Methods

Posted at 10:19 PM, Jan 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-04 23:33:05-05

A Tennessee lawmaker landed himself in the middle of the Oregon standoff controversy without ever stepping foot out of the Volunteer State.

It started with a protest over the weekend.

Dozens in army fatigues, carrying weapons but remaining peaceful, took to the streets in Oregon on behalf of rancher Dwight Hammond and his son Steven. The two reported back to federal prison Monday for a prescribed burn that blew out of control, destroying federal land. Prosecutors argued the burn was meant to cover up poaching. Those defending the Hammonds say they were burning back invasive plants to keep their land safe.

A judge decided they had to serve the minimum 5-year sentence rather than the months they served originally.

And now in Tennessee one lawmaker has made his support for the ranchers well-known.

"We have a 72-year-old man and a 46-year-old man who are having to leave their families not for one time but now for the second time to serve hard time in a federal prison because of a supposed federal criminal activity that happened 15 years ago," said state representative Andy Holt (R, Dresden).

When a group lead by Ammon Bundy spun off the protest and stormed an empty building on the wildlife refuge in question, Representative Holt sent out a tweet that brought on a firestorm of criticism.

"#bundymilitia Where can I send support for your effort?" the tweet read.

Reporter Rebecca Schleicher asked Holt about the tweet Monday.

"Originally you had asked where you could help the cause. Has that since been deleted?" she asked, "I'm scrolling through and I'm not seeing it anymore."

"That's correct,  yeah," Holt replied, continuing to say he received hundreds of replies he believed were either fake or paid for by his opponents.

"But it served its purpose, it brought attention to this conversation and that I am very pleased with," he said.

Holt clarified that he doesn't agree with the so-called militia's methods in order to protest what they consider federal overreach. Their main grievance: the vast lands under federal, rather than state, control. Bundy's father famously lead another standoff over a grazing dispute in Nevada, that time involving his own cattle. 

"Obviously I'm not going to storm a federal building, I'm not gonna do anything like that," Holt said, "but the ideology and the philosophy that's been expressed by the Bundy's...I do support that 100 percent."

Monday Harney County Sheriff David Ward had a message for Bundy and the other occupants who are largely from other states.

"It's time for you to leave our community," he said, "go home to your families and end this peacefully."

As the world waits to see how the Oregon standoff ends, Rep. Holt is now turning any online death threats over to the TBI.

"The vast majority of the comments are telling me I should resign from office, I'm an idiot, I should shut up, I've never read the constitution, I don’t have the understanding and nothing could be further from the truth," Holt said.

He says he welcomes lively discussion, as long as he and his family are not a target for personal attacks.