Letters from the West

Oregon militants urged to leave; wildlife refuge surrounded

Federal and state law enforcement officials urged followers of Ammon Bundy who remained in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Wednesday to leave, saying there was no need for more bloodshed.

LaVoy Finicum, a 55-year-old Arizonan, was shot to death Tuesday as the FBI and Oregon State Police conducted a traffic stop that halted a convoy of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge’s armed occupiers and prompted gunfire along U.S. 395 in the frozen high country of Oregon.

FBI Agent Greg Bretzing told reporters the death, and the arrests of eight other occupiers were their own fault, but didn’t elaborate, adding that his agency won’t provide more details until state investigations are completed.

“As the FBI has demonstrated, actions are not without consequences,” Bretzing said.

Also Wednesday, a federal judge in Portland unsealed a criminal complaint that said the armed group had explosives and night-vision goggles and that they were prepared to fight at the refuge or in the nearby town of Burns.

Someone told authorities about the equipment on Jan. 2, when the group took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, according to the document. It was not clear if explosives were found or if concern about them was the reason agents moved to make the arrests.

Brothers Ammon Bundy, of Emmett, and Ryan C. Bundy, of Cedar City, Utah, were among the eight people arrested and charged with conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats during their 25-day armed occupation, the FBI reported. They were scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Portland Wednesday afternoon.

The Bundys are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights.

In a statement, the FBI and Oregon State Police said agents also had arrested Brian Cavalier, 44; Shawna Cox, 59; and Ryan Payne, 32, during the traffic stop on U.S. 395 on Tuesday. Authorities said two others — Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, 45, and Peter Santilli, 50 — were arrested separately in Burns, while FBI agents in Arizona arrested Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32.

Ryan Bundy was wounded during the shootout, the Bundy family said.

The FBI and Oregon State Police have set up a ring around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where more militants remain. It includes a series of checkpoints established along key routes into and out of the refuge.

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said at the press confrerence he has been working toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict ever since several of those arrested gave “ultimatums I could not meet.” He said the shooting “didn’t have to happen.

“We all make choices in life,” he said. “Sometimes our choices go bad.”

Before their arrests and the shooting, Ammon Bundy and his entourage had been heading to John Day for a meeting with the public and Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer, who had urged federal authorities to release Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. A revised prison sentence for the Hammonds regarding fires they set was one of the sparks of the occupation.

In a video posted to Facebook, Mike McConnell said he was driving the vehicle carrying Ammon Bundy and another occupier, Brian Cavalier. He said Finicum was driving a truck and with him were Ryan Bundy – Ammon’s brother – as well as three others.

He said the convoy was driving through a forest when they were stopped by agents in heavy-duty trucks. He said agents first pulled him out of the vehicle, followed by Ammon Bundy and Cavalier.

When agents approached the truck driven by Filicum, he drove off with officers in pursuit. McConnell said he did not see what happened next, but heard from others who were in that vehicle that they encountered a roadblock.

The truck got stuck in a snowbank, and Finicum got out and “charged them. He went after them,” McConnell said.

Relatives of Ammon Bundy offered similar accounts, but they claimed Finicum did nothing to provoke FBI agents.

Briana Bundy, a sister of Ammon Bundy, said he called his wife after his arrest. He said the group was stopped by state and federal officers.

She said people in the two vehicles complied with instructions to get out with their hands up.

“LaVoy shouted, ‘Don’t shoot. We’re unarmed,’ ” Briana Bundy said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They began to fire on them. Ammon said it happened real fast.”

“Ammon said, ‘They murdered him in cold blood. We did everything they asked, and they murdered him. We complied with their demands,’ ” she said.

McConnell had a different perspective.

“Any time someone takes off with a vehicle away from law enforcement after they’ve exercised a stop, it’s typically considered an act of aggression, and foolish,” he said in the Facebook video.

McConnell said he was questioned by authorities, and he believes he was not charged because he was not considered a leader of the group.

Briana Bundy confirmed that McConnell was in the convoy on Tuesday.

Ward said the harassment and disruption in Burns itself made it untenable to allow the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 30 miles away to continue.

“This has been tearing our our community apart,” Ward said. “Its time for everybody in this illegal occuptation to move on. Ther doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community.”

He said if people have issues with how their government is run, they should actively get involved at all levels.

“We don’t arm up and rebel,” Ward said. “We work through the appropriate channels.”

Initially, some Bundy supporters put out a video urging people to come to the refuge headquarters to defend it. But this morning the Three Percent of Idaho, which has worked with the Pacific Patriot Network, issued a “stand down” order to its members and supporters, said Chris McIntire, its Boise spokesman.

“We’re not putting out a call to action,” McIntire said. “Everyone’s enraged, tensions are high but we are waiting until we get more information.”

The Three Percent of Idaho initially left the long series of protests that ended Jan. 2 when the refuge occupation began. But they returned along with the rest of the Pacific Patriots Network to “act as a buffer” between authorities and the Bundys.

McIntire said the Bundys did not tell them they were heading to John Day.

“We’re not advocating any armed insurrection,” McIntire said.

Tuesday night, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked for “patience as officials continue pursuit of a swift and peaceful resolution.”

Brand Thornton, one of Bundy’s supporters, said he left the refuge Monday and wasn’t sure what those remaining would do.

“The entire leadership is gone,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “I wouldn’t blame any of them for leaving.”

Thornton called the arrests “a dirty trick” by law enforcement.

On Saturday, Bundy followers said they would not be arrested because the FBI and federal authorities knew they did not have authority to kick them off the 108-year-old national wildlife refuge, which had been established by President Theodore Roosevelt. But a chorus of state, local and tribal officials demanded that the federal government remove the occupiers.

“I am pleased that the FBI has listened to the concerns of the local community and responded to the illegal activity occurring in Harney County by outside extremists,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a written statement. “The leaders of this group are now in custody and I hope that the remaining individuals occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will peacefully surrender so this community can begin to heal the deep wounds that this illegal activity has created over the last month.”

Federal employees, especially the 17 people who worked at Malheur and their families, had reportedly been subjected to harassment, threats and presence of armed militia patrolling the streets. The armed occupation of the refuge, which began Jan. 2, made it impossible for the workers to continue their work preparing the refuge for the spring migrations and flooding.

The Bureau of Land Management closed its Burns offices, but the 100 or so employees and their families stayed, working from their homes when possible.

For the refuge employees as well as the ranchers who graze their cattle, mow hay or depend on the refuge irrigation systems and dams, the effects of the occupation have been dramatic. The occupying force has gotten into their records, including personnel records.

They have gone through desks, carved new roads and rearranged buildings. “Our irrigation season starts in a month and a half. It will have serious consequences across the community if we don’t have active treatment,” one refuge employee said.

The disruption all began when outside protest groups led by the Bundys came to rally behind the Hammonds, who were ordered back to prison after a federal appeals court said they had to serve the entire minimum sentence tied to the terrorist statute used to convict them of arson for a fire on the refuge.

The Bundys then quickly made the standoff about public lands in the West and told the Statesman over the weekend that the protests were also about having a new kind of government.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

Oregon standoff arrests: What to know

The FBI has arrested the leaders of an armed group that has occupied a national wildlife refuge in Oregon for more than three weeks. Here is a rundown of how the arrests and their aftermath:

What happened? Militant leader Ammon Bundy and his followers were reportedly heading to a community meeting Tuesday in a small community near the wildlife refuge to explain to local residents their views on federal management of public lands. In a statement, the FBI and Oregon State Police said police arrested Ammon Bundy, his brother, Ryan, and three others during a traffic stop north of Burns. Authorities said an adult male suspect was killed and another suffered non-life threatening injuries when shots were fired. Authorities didn’t identify the person killed, but the Oregonian reports it was an Arizona rancher. Arianna Finicum Brown told the newspaper that the man killed was her father – 55-year-old Robert “LaVoy” Finicum of Cane Beds, Arizona. LaVoy Finicum was a frequent and public presence at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, often speaking

Why did authorities take action now? The FBI didn’t say Tuesday, although federal officials had come under increasing pressure from Oregon’s governor and local leaders to do something. Bundy’s group had been free to come and go. They’d held frequent news conferences at the site, travelled to meet with sympathizers and others to espouse their views and some even attended a community meeting last week, where local residents shouted at them to leave. Bundy had been in contact with an FBI negotiator and local law enforcement.

How did this begin? The group took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 after a peaceful protest in nearby Burns, Oregon, over the conviction of two local ranchers on arson charges. Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, said they lit fires on federal land in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. The two were convicted three years ago. But in October, a federal judge ruled their terms were too short under U.S. law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each. Among the demands by the Bundy group is for the Hammonds to be released.

What charges do those arrested face? The FBI said the people arrested face a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.

What’s happening at the refuge now? It was unclear how many people remained in the buildings at the refuge. Late Tuesday night there was no obvious police presence there and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked for “patience as officials continue pursuit of a swift and peaceful resolution.”

— The Associated Press

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