Jan 28, 2016

Remaining Oregon protesters warn of 'Armageddon,' but Bundy urges holdouts to go home

Matt Pearce 
Los Angeles Times
January 27, 2016

As law enforcement officials surrounded the remaining protesters at an Oregon wildlife refuge Wednesday, an armed occupier urged supporters to join them and to kill any officer who tried to prevent their entry, according to a live stream that has been broadcast online from the site.

“There are no laws in this United States now! This is a free-for-all Armageddon!” a heavyset man holding a rifle yelled into a camera that was broadcast from the refuge Wednesday morning, adding that if “they stop you from getting here, kill them!”

A second man cooed to the camera in a singsong voice, “What you gonna do, what you gonna do when the militia comes after you, FBI?”

But on Wednesday afternoon, one of the group’s leaders arrested the day before, Ammon Bundy, urged the remaining occupiers to “stand down,” leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and “go home and hug your families.”

“This fight is ours for now -- in the courts,” Bundy said in a statement read by his attorney outside the federal courthouse in Portland, where Bundy and several other defendants made their initial court appearances Wednesday afternoon. “Please go home.”

The FBI declined to release any details about how a spokesman for the protest group was killed during a confrontation with federal and state agencies Tuesday, citing a policy of not commenting on shooting incidents while they are under review.

Read the criminal complaint against the Oregon protesters

The sudden move by the FBI and the Oregon State Police to arrest ranking protest leaders on a rural stretch of highway Tuesday afternoon was “a very deliberate and measured response” to the armed occupation that had lasted since Jan. 2 with no end in sight, Gregory T. Bretzing, special agent in charge of Portland’s FBI division, said at a Wednesday morning news conference.

“We’ve worked diligently to bring the situation” at the refuge near Burns, Ore., to “a peaceful end,” Bretzing said.

He said that the surprise arrests were deliberately carried out far from residents and that agents were cognizant of "removing the threat of danger from anybody who might be present.”

But he said he could not release details about how protest spokesman and Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum was killed, citing an ongoing investigation. A pair of unverified videos from a man and a woman who said they were traveling with the protesters when they were arrested said that Finicum was shot after he sped away from law enforcement during a traffic stop.

Several of those arrested, including Bundy, made their initial appearance in federal court Wednesday to face charges of government intimidation.

Meanwhile, the standoff continues.

On Wednesday morning, law enforcement officials blocked the roads around the refuge, where armed protesters were still operating heavy machinery and refusing to leave, according to a live stream from the site.

The FBI and Oregon State Police's "containment procedure" is probably aimed at preventing more armed activists from bolstering the holdouts and keeping track of anyone who decides to leave the refuge. A group in contact with the occupiers, the Pacific Patriots Network, urged supporters to “stand by” as it urged peace and gathered more information about what was happening. Activist Jason Patrick told Oregon Public Radio that about seven to 12 occupiers remained at the refuge.

“This has been tearing our community apart,” Harney County Sheriff David Ward said of the armed occupation during a Wednesday news conference in Burns, where he urged “everybody in this illegal occupation to move on.”

“There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community,” Ward said. “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.

"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 this can’t happen in Harney County.”

On Tuesday, law enforcement authorities stopped a group of occupiers who had temporarily left the occupied refuge, apparently to attend a community meeting.

“Multiple agencies, law enforcement agencies, put a lot of work into doing the best tactical plan they could to take these guys down peacefully and find some resolution to these issues in our community,” Ward said.

As to what occurred next, he said: “It didn’t have to happen. We all make choices in life. Sometimes our choices go bad.”

Gunfire broke out when the FBI and the Oregon State Police intercepted Ammon Bundy and several of his supporters on a rural stretch of U.S. Highway 395 about halfway between the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the town of John Day.

“It was planned in an area that would minimize injury to others and to law enforcement,” said a law enforcement official who requested anonymity to discuss an incident that was under investigation. “Authorities all along had hoped this would be resolved peacefully, and the arrestees and the decedent were all given ample opportunities to allow this to end peacefully.”

The protesters had been en route to a meeting with hundreds of Oregon residents, many of them supporters of the occupation, about 100 miles north of the refuge in the town of John Day.

Details of what happened on the highway were scant. Officials would only say that shots were fired.

Ammon's brother, Ryan Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nev., was shot in the arm, and the 55-year-old Finicum was killed, said Finicum's daughter and Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore.

The void of official information about the incident has been filled by unverified videos circulating widely on social media among militia supporters.

A man named Mark McConnell – who is in contact with one of the refuge’s remaining occupiers, Jason Patrick – posted a video on Facebook early Wednesday that said he was driving one of the group’s vehicles and that Finicum had been driving the other.

McConnell said that after officials detained him and the others in his vehicle – which included Ammon Bundy -- Finicum sped away, with Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, 59, and “an 18-year-old girl" in his vehicle.

“LaVoy is very passionate about this, about the movement, about what we’re doing here … I loved the dude. … But he took off,” McConnell said in the Facebook video.

McConnell said he was released after two hours of interrogation. He said he was not among the original occupiers.

“Don’t put speculation, don’t put nonsense out there,” McConnell said, scolding Facebook commenters who were not at the scene. “Get to business, we have work to do here, alright. Let’s not let LaVoy’s death be in vain.”

Maureen Peltier, who spent a week and a half at the compound and who stayed in contact with the occupiers and their supporters, said she didn’t personally know McConnell, though she said McConnell was relatively well known by other camp supporters.

“Everybody has turned their phones off or is just not answering them. There’s a lot of people down there I don’t know where they are and if they are OK,” Peltier said. “I have never been this in the dark. I would love for America to have eyes on [what’s happening] there and help them, but I don’t know how to at this point. I can’t get their story out if they’re not talking.”

Finicum's daughter, Arianna Finicum Brown, confirmed her father's death to the Oregonian newspaper. “He would never, ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom, and he knew the risks involved,” said Brown, one of 11 children.

Ammon Bundy, 40, told his wife in a phone call that the group had been cooperative when law enforcement agents confronted them, according to Fiore, a Bundy family supporter who spoke with Bundy's wife on Tuesday.

"It's very unfortunate. The only saving grace is there's six witnesses to it," Fiore said in an interview.

Ryan Bundy was treated and released into FBI custody.

The Bundy brothers are the sons of Cliven Bundy, a southern Nevada rancher who was at the center of a tense armed standoff of his own with federal Bureau of Land Management officials in 2014.

"Isn't this a wonderful country we live in?" the elder Bundy said sarcastically Tuesday night when The Times informed him about the arrests and the death.

In addition to the Bundy brothers, those arrested on the highway were Brian Cavalier, 44, also of Bunkerville; Cox of Kanab, Utah; and Ryan Waylen Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont.

Police said they arrested another man, Joseph O'Shaughnessy of Cottonwood, Ariz., in Burns, near the occupied wildlife refuge.

About two hours after the initial confrontation, authorities also arrested Internet radio host Pete Santilli, a supporter of the occupation who has documented the case on his program and via live stream since it began.

Another occupier, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, an antigovernment activist who has organized armed anti-Muslim rallies in Phoenix, turned himself in to police in Peoria, Ariz., without incident, officials said.

In a video posted on Facebook before he surrendered, Ritzheimer said goodbye to his two daughters. “Daddy’s gotta go bye-bye,” said Ritzheimer, who said he had returned to Arizona from Oregon to visit his family. “I gotta go again, OK?”

“The Feds know I am here and are asking me to turn myself in. I need an attorney so I can get back to my girls,” Ritzheimer wrote, asking for donations. “I just want the country to live by the Constitution and I just want the government to abide by it.”

Times staff writers Nigel Duara in Phoenix and William Yardley in Burns contributed to this report.


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