GOP candidates are starting to make a break from 'militia' at the center of the tense standoff in Oregon

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Ted Cruz Hopes Armed Militia Men "Stand Down Peaceably"

Republican presidential contenders are beginning to break their silence about the tense standoff between law enforcement and an anti-government militia.

The armed, anti-government group is protesting the jail sentences of two men who set fire to federal land.

SEE ALSO: Protesters vow to hold Oregon refuge until Feds give in

It has occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon since Saturday, as part of a dispute over the federal government's ownership of large swaths of land in some western states.

Led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy — the sons of Cliven Bundy, a rancher who made in headlines in 2014 for his own tense standoff with the federal government, as well as his inflammatory statements about African-Americans — the group is aiming to force the government to cede federal land to private individuals.

See photos of the tense standoff:

19 PHOTOS
Ranching dispute in Oregon; protesters take over National Wildlife Refuge
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GOP candidates are starting to make a break from 'militia' at the center of the tense standoff in Oregon
KANAB, UT - FEBRUARY 5: A man holds a flag as two armed private security guards look on outside a Mormon church for the funeral of rancher Robert 'LaVoy' Finicum on February 5, 2016 in Kanab, Utah. Finicum who was part of the Burns, Oregon standoff with federal officials was shot and killed by FBI agents when they tried to detain him at a traffic stop on February 27, 2016. ( Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Law enforcement personnel monitor an intersection of closed Highway 395 in Burns, Oregon on January 26, 2016, during a standoff pitting an anti-government militia against the US authorities. One person died in an armed clash with police as they arrested the leaders of a group laying siege to an American wildlife refuge, the FBI said January 26. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on the sixth day of the occupation of the federal building in Burns, Oregon on January 7, 2016. The leader of a small group of armed activists who have occupied a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon hinted on Wednesday that the standoff may be nearing its end. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on the sixth day of the occupation of the federal building in Burns, Oregon on January 7, 2016. The leader of a small group of armed activists who have occupied a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon hinted on Wednesday that the standoff may be nearing its end. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 07: A member of an anti-government militia stands next to a campfire outside of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 7, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 07: A man wearing a patriotic jacket rides his horse on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on January 7, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Members of an armed anti-government militia, monitor the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon January 5, 2016. The occupation of a wildlife refuge by armed protesters in Oregon reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land. While the standoff in rural Oregon was prompted by the jailing of two ranchers convicted of arson, experts say the issue at the core of the dispute runs much deeper and concerns grazing or timber rights as well as permits to work mines on government land in Western states. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: Members of an anti-government militia stand outside of a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Ammon Bundy(2nd-L), leader of an armed anti-government militia, returns to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon January 5, 2016 following a news conference. The occupation of a wildlife refuge by armed protesters in Oregon reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land. While the standoff in rural Oregon was prompted by the jailing of two ranchers convicted of arson, experts say the issue at the core of the dispute runs much deeper and concerns grazing or timber rights as well as permits to work mines on government land in Western states. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: Ammon Bundy, the leader of an anti-government militia, speaks to members of the media in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: A view of the visitor center at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: A member of an anti-government militia stands outside of a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Ammon Bundy, the leader of armed protesters who have taken over a federal building in rural Oregon, told TODAY Monday that the group has no intention of committing violence unless the government intervenes.

Photo courtesy: NBC News

Members of a small militia at the entrance to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters property some 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016. The armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Deserted N. Broadway Avenue in Burns, Oregon is seen January 3, 2016, where 30 miles away a militia group has occupied the Malheur Wildlife Headquarters complex. Anti-government militiamen from several US states continued to occupy the federal wildlife facility in Oregon, saying their protest against the jailing of two ranchers could last years, media reported. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
A vehicle occupied by members of a small militia group enter the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters property some 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016. The armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Media gather outside the entrance of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016, where an armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Patric Batie, 14, walks along a road in Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016, some 30 miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters where a group of armed anti-government protesters have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some school to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
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"We're planning on staying here for several years. And while we're here what we're going to be doing is freeing these lands up and getting the ranchers back to ranching, getting the miners back to mining," Ammon Bundy said in a Facebook video (which has since been taken down or made private).

Federal-land use is a somewhat prominent issue in western US states, including the electorally important states of Nevada and Colorado. The topic resonates with many conservatives who feel the federal government's land ownership is excessive or unconstitutional.

SEE ALSO: California braces for series of El Nino storms

Some Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and Donald Trump previously expressed sympathy for Cliven Bundy's stand during in 2014, and both Paul and Carson have also called for turning federal land over to states and private interests.

But some of those same politicians are singing a different tune in the early throes of the Oregon standoff.

Here's a look at how candidates have reacted thus far:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)

As BuzzFeed reported, Rubio told Iowa radio station KBUR on Monday that the protesters should obey the law and lift their occupation of the wildlife center.

"You cannot be lawless. We live in a Republic. There are ways to change the laws of this country and the policies. And if we get frustrated by it, that's why we have elections," Rubio said.

SEE ALSO: Oregon protesters find support and scorn on social media

Rubio indicated that he sympathized with the protesters' cause, but said he did not support their aggressive tactics.

"I agree that there's too much federal control over land, especially out in the western part of the US. There are states like Nevada that are dominated by the federal government in terms of land-owning. And we should fix it," Rubio said. "But no one should be doing it in a way that's outside the law."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Cruz — who carefully noted his sympathy for Cliven Bundy's 2014 protest against the federal government — said that he hoped the militia group would stand down, and that he we "praying" for law enforcement officers involved in the standoff

"Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds. We don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence, and to threaten force and violence on others," Cruz said. "And so it's our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably."

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)

According to NBC reporter Danny Freeman, Kasich appeared unaware of the standoff's details.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)

Paul reportedly met with Cliven Bundy earlier this year to discuss federal and state land-management policy. And earlier this summer during a campaign event in Nevada, Paul answered a question on the topic posed by Ryan Bundy, Ammon's brother and Cliven's son.

SEE ALSO: Charlie Hebdo runs religious extremism cartoon cover on anniversary of terror attack

When asked about Paul's position on the standoff, his campaign pointed Business Insider to the senator's comments to The Washington Post.

"I'm sympathetic to the idea that the large collection of federal lands ought to be turned back to the states and the people, but I think the best way to bring about change is through politics," Paul said, according to The Post. "That's why I entered the electoral arena. I don't support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy."

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania)

In a CNN interview on Monday, Santorum said he understood the grievances that protesters have with the federal government. But he said breaking the law was not an appropriate solution.

"These are folks who have legitimate grievances with the government, just like you could argue that the Occupy Wall Street had legitimate grievances about income inequality," Santorum said. "And we have room for protesters, we have room for people protesting their rights. At the same time, there are consequences that have to be paid for people who do break the law."

He added: "But going through a situation where someone is going to get hurt ... that's not a good solution."

NOW WATCH: Here are the Republican candidates who lie the most

See Also:

SEE ALSO: The standoff at an Oregon wildlife center has its roots in a spirited argument in conservative politics


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