After weeks of trying to wait out the Bundy-led occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon, law enforcement agents shifted tactics Tuesday with a roadside confrontation that resulted in the death of one occupier and the arrests of eight other protesters.
But the handful of militants still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters showed no sign Wednesday of surrendering, even as federal and state agents urged them to exit and set up a perimeter around the site.
“I’ll pass on and move on to the next life. I don’t know [how it will end], but I’m willing to go that far,” David Fry of Cincinnati, Ohio, one of those still occupying the building, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer by telephone.
Later, the occupation’s leader, Ammon Bundy, who was arrested Tuesday, called on those remaining to stand down after he was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Portland, Oregon.
“I love you. Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down,” Mr. Bundy said through his lawyer, according to KATU-TV in Portland.
An emotional Harney County Sheriff David Ward pleaded Wednesday with the remaining occupiers to turn themselves in before the situation escalates.
“It’s time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on. There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community,” Sheriff Ward said at a press briefing with the FBI and Oregon State Police.
The dramatic events came in stark contrast to the hands-off approach employed by law enforcement since several dozen armed protesters calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom took over the unoccupied refuge building after a Jan. 2 rally in Burns, Oregon.
The militants, who had held frequent press conferences at the refuge and traveled back and forth unimpeded, called for the release of two Harney County ranchers, each resentenced to five years in prison for setting a fire on their property that spread to federal land.
Five of the eight militants were arrested late Tuesday after their vehicles were stopped on U.S. Highway 395, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy. Another three were arrested separately.
Seven of the eight were arraigned Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland. A detention hearing was set for Friday, according to The Oregonian.
The militants have been charged with one felony count each of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats, which carries a maximum six-year prison sentence.
“If we have issues with the way things are going in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act on those in an appropriate manner,” Sheriff Ward said, choking back tears. “We don’t arm up — we don’t arm up and rebel. We work through the appropriate channels. This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America, and it can’t happen in Harney County.”
The FBI has not released the name of the man killed in the clash, but multiple sources have identified him as Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 55, of Canes Bed, Arizona, a group spokesman known for his cowboy hat who had appeared frequently before the media.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing made it clear during the press briefing that the occupiers had worn out their welcome.
He described the decision to confront the protesters as they drove to a community meeting in Burns as “the necessary actions to start bringing this situation to an end.”
“I will say that the armed occupiers were given ample opportunities to leave peacefully,” Mr. Bretzing said. “They were given the opportunity to negotiate. As outsiders to Oregon, they were given the opportunity to return to their homes and have their grievances heard through legal and appropriate means.
“They chose, instead, to threaten the very America they profess to love with violence, intimidation and criminal acts,” he said.
The FBI, working with state and local law enforcement, continues to work “to empty the refuge of the armed occupiers in the safest way possible,” he said.
Also pressing for a resolution is Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who ramped up the pressure last week with a letter to the FBI and Justice Department calling for “swift action.” She also asked President Obama to end the standoff “without further delay.”
“My office will continue collaborating with law enforcement partners to resolve the situation and hold wrongdoers accountable,” Ms. Brown, a Democrat, said Wednesday in a post on Twitter.
There was speculation that the rest of the occupiers would leave after the group’s leaders were arrested, but Jason Patrick, who remains at the refuge, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that they had chosen new leaders and voted to stay.
Ryan Bundy suffered a minor gunshot wound during the arrest. The Nevada-based Bundy family has a history of challenging federal public lands authority, notably a 2014 standoff between patriarch Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management over a grazing fee dispute.
A Wednesday post on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page read, “Peaceful, principled defiance of tyranny is never lawless.”
Ammon Bundy had told reporters previously that the protesters, while armed, would not resort to violence unless they were attacked.
The group also had called for the Obama administration to transfer control of federal lands in Harney County to local authorities. About 53 percent of Oregon is owned by the federal government.
“I’ve been working on a peaceful resolution of this problem since Nov. 5, when several of the individuals arrested yesterday came into my office,” Sheriff Ward said. “They had ultimatums that I couldn’t meet. I’m here to uphold the law.”
In addition to the Bundy brothers, the following were arrested at the highway stop: Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nevada; Shawna J. Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; and Ryan W. Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Montana.
Two others — Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Arizona; and Peter Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati — were arrested separately in Burns.
Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, turned himself in late Tuesday to police in Peoria, Arizona. He was the only person arrested who did not appear Wednesday in federal court in Portland.
Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore said in a Tuesday night Twitter post that the person killed was Mr. Finicum.
Mr. Finicum was interviewed Jan. 6 by MSNBC as he sat outside under a blue tarp with a rifle in his lap, earning him the hashtag #Tarpman.
“My heart & [prayers] go out to LaVoy Finicum’s family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR. Ryan Bundy has been shot in the arm,” Ms. Fiore said in a tweet.