Ted Cruz (Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

This post has been updated.

BOONE, Iowa — Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday urged a peaceful end to the occupation of a rural Oregon wildlife refuge by armed activists.

"Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds, but we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others," Cruz told reporters in an icy parking lot before a campaign stop at a Christian bookstore here.

"And so it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation," he said, and offered prayers for law enforcement officers at the scene.

A group of armed activists occupied part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles from Burns, Ore., this weekend. The group said it is protesting the case of two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of arson in 2012 and are scheduled to report to federal prison Monday. The ranchers were convicted on a broad terrorism charge. The group said it wants to uphold constitutional principles and said it is prepared to occupy the refuge for years.

Read: Armed activists in Oregon touch off unpredictable chapter in land-use feud

It is led by at least one son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who had his own standoff with the federal government in 2014 over land rights. Cruz and other candidates had initially supported Bundy, but many backed off after the rancher made racially charged remarks.

"We have seen liberty under assault from a federal government that seems hell-bent on expanding its authority over every aspect of our lives,” Cruz told a conservative radio host about Cliven Bundy's case in 2014.. “It is in that context that people are viewing this battle with the federal government. We should have a federal government protecting the liberty of the citizens, not using the jackboot of authoritarianism to come against the citizens.”

Read: Republican candidates stay quiet on events in Oregon

Republican candidates had been loath to weigh in on the standoff over the weekend. Some of the issues involved in the standoff — constitutional rights, allegations of federal government overreach and individual liberties — have come to the fore in the GOP primary race. And as Western states are poised to play a larger role in the contest, so has the issue of property rights in a region where the federal government controls about half of the land.

But the nature of the Oregon protest has found no defenders in the GOP race. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is campaigning in New Hampshire today, has campaigned hard in the west and spoke out on the lands issue. Like Cruz, he could not support what Bundy and the other armed activists were doing.

"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 told the Washington Post in an interview. "That's why I entered the electoral arena. I don’t support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Iowa's KBUR radio that while the federal government has too much control over land in the West, the tactics used in Oregon were indefensible.

"You've got to follow the law. You can't be lawless," said Rubio.

But Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), whose strategist John Weaver condemned the Oregon standoff yesterday, avoided the topic after an event in Des Moines. According to NBC News reporter Danny Freeman, Kasich said that he "hadn't heard about" the situation.

"When did this come out?" he asked.

After being told that the news broke on Sunday, Kasich repeated that he hadn't heard the details, and ended the line of questioning.

 

David Weigel reported from Hull, Iowa.