BURNS, Ore. – The last four armed occupiers of a national wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon said they would turn themselves in Thursday morning after law officers surrounded them in a tense standoff.
The development came as Cliven Bundy – who led a Nevada standoff with federal officers in 2014 and who is also the father of the jailed leader of the Oregon standoff – was arrested in Portland.
The four occupiers yelled at officers to back off and prayed with supporters over an open phone line as the standoff played out on the Internet Wednesday night via a phone line being livestreamed by an acquaintance of occupier David Fry.
Fry, 27, of Blanchester, Ohio, sounded increasingly unraveled as he continually yelled, at times hysterically, at what he said was an FBI negotiator. “You’re going to hell. Kill me. Get it over with,” he said. “We’re innocent people camping at a public facility, and you’re going to murder us.”
“The only way we’re leaving here is dead or without charges,” Fry said, who told the FBI to “get the hell out of Oregon.”
Fry and the three others are the last remnants of a group led by Ammon Bundy that seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 to oppose federal land-use policies. The three others are Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada; and married couple Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, of Riggins, Idaho.
Fry said Wednesday the group was surrounded by armoured vehicles.
Cliven Bundy, the father of occupation leader Ammon Bundy, flew into Portland International Airport Wednesday night and was arrested by authorities. He was booked into the lockup just before 11 p.m. according to Multnomah County Jail records.
The 74-year-old Nevadan was at the centre of the standoff with federal officials over use of public lands. The Oregonian reports he now faces a conspiracy charge of interfering with a federal officer related to that standoff at his ranch.
The FBI confirmed Cliven Bundy’s was taken into federal custody but declined to provide a reason or other details, saying further information would be released by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Las Vegas, which did not respond to a phone call early Thursday.
Ammon Bundy had been demanding that the Oregon refuge be handed over to locals.
A Nevada legislator, Michele Fiore, called the occupiers earlier in the evening to try to get the occupiers to calm down. Fiore said she could help them only if they stayed alive.
“I need you guys alive,” said the Republican member of the Nevada Assembly who was in Portland earlier in the day to show support for Ammon Bundy, who remains jailed. Fiore told occupiers Wednesday night she was driving to the refuge to try to help negotiate their exit from the refuge. The occupiers prayed with Fiore and others as the situation dragged on for hours Wednesday night.
Sean Anderson said late Wednesday he spoke with the FBI and that he and the three other holdouts would turn themselves in at a nearby FBI checkpoint at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Anderson relayed the news to Fiore.
“We’re not surrendering, we’re turning ourselves in. It’s going against everything we believe in,” he said.
Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said in a statement the situation had reached a point where it “became necessary to take action” to ensure the safety of all involved.
Bretzing said one of the occupiers rode an ATV outside “the barricades established by the militia” at the refuge. When FBI agents tried to approach the driver, Fry said he returned to the camp at a “high rate of speed.”
The FBI placed agents at barricades ahead of and behind the occupier’s camp, Bretzing said.
“It has never been the FBI’s desire to engage these armed occupiers in any way other than through dialogue, and to that end, the FBI has negotiated with patience and restraint in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully,” he said in a statement.
Authorities had for weeks allowed the occupiers to come and go freely from the remote refuge, leading to criticism from local and state officials that law enforcement wasn’t doing enough to end the situation.
Ammon Bundy and others were arrested Jan. 26 on a remote road outside the refuge, but the four holdouts remained.
On Wednesday night Sandy Anderson said after the group was surrounded: “They’re threatening us. They’re getting closer. I pray that there’s a revolution if we die here tonight.”
Her husband, Sean Anderson, said in the livestream: “We will not fire until fired upon. We haven’t broken any laws, came here to recognize our constitutional rights.”
The occupiers said they saw snipers on a hill and a drone.
The standoff was occurring on the 40th day of the occupation, launched by Bundy and his followers to protest prison terms for two local ranchers on arson charges and federal management of public lands.
Bundy was arrested last month as he and other main figures of the occupation were travelling to the town of John Day. Four others were also arrested in that confrontation, which resulted in the shooting death of the group’s spokesman, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. The FBI said Finicum was reaching for a gun.
Most of the occupiers fled the refuge after that. Authorities then surrounded the property and later got the holdouts added to an indictment charging 16 people with conspiracy to interfere with federal workers.
At first, Bundy urged the last holdouts to go home. But in response to the grand jury indictment, he took a more defiant tone from jail.