Feb 11, 2016

Oregon Standoff Ends as Last Militant Surrenders

New York Times
February 11, 2016

PRINCETON, Ore. — The last four holdouts in the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon surrendered peacefully Thursday morning, 40 days after the standoff began.

Three of the four walked out to waiting F.B.I. agents over the course of a few minutes after 9:30 a.m., but the fourth, David Fry, at first said he would not.

In an extraordinary, hours long negotiation with supporters and F.B.I. agent, with thousands of people listening to the conversation on a live stream online, he aired a wide range of grievances, said he was suicidal, and said repeatedly that his choice was “liberty or death.” Ultimately he gave himself up without a fight.

The occupation by antigovernment militants appeared to be reaching its end in late January, when 11 of its most prominent members — including the leader, Ammon Bundy — were arrested while venturing out of the refuge. One protester was killed, and some of the remaining occupiers heeded calls by Mr. Bundy and others to go home.

But four refused to leave, and held out for another two weeks until three gave themselves up Thursday to the F.B.I. after lengthy negotiations by phone. The Rev. Franklin Graham and Michele Fiore, a Nevada state lawmaker and supporter of the Bundy family, helped smooth the surrender, first speaking by phone to the occupiers in a conversation that was streamed live online. They then accompanied the F.B.I. agents who drove to the refuge and arrested the holdouts.

The end of the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge came the day after the F.B.I. arrested Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon Bundy and an icon to antigovernment activists in the West, who was at the center of another armed standoff with government agents, in Nevada in 2014.

Speaking with the four holdouts, Ms. Fiore urged them to surrender peacefully to the F.B.I. so that they could continue to spread their message. “A dead man can’t talk, a dead man can’t write,” she told them. “We have to just stay together, stay alive.”

Reverend Graham said, “You all just do everything they told you to do, and it’s going to work out great.”

The occupiers replied that they would walk out to meet the F.B.I., stressing repeatedly that they would be unarmed, and that they were leaving their guns behind.

At 9:38 a.m., one of them, Sean Anderson, said he and his wife, Sandy, were walking out, and he could be heard yelling “coming out!” to the agents. Mr. Fry described the Andersons making their way out, hands raised, with Mr. Anderson holding an American flag in one hand, until they were taken into custody.

At 9:42, Mr. Fry said another of the occupiers, Jeff Banta, was going toward the agents, hands in the air.

Then Mr. Fry, t, who had seemed calm to that point, lit a cigarette and became agitated. “Unless my grievances are heard, I won’t come out,” he shouted. Supporters on the phone, and those at the refuge, urged him to remain calm and surrender.

“I’m actually feeling suicidal right now,” Mr. Fry said. He said he was sitting alone in a tent. “I have to stand my ground,” he said. “It’s liberty or death. I will not go another day as a slave to this system.”

“I declare war against the federal government,” he said a few minutes later. “I’ve peacefully voted and nothing is ever done.”

Mr. Fry said his grievances had not been addressed. He claimed his taxes were being used to pay for abortions. “Until you guys address my grievances, I will just sit in here by myself.”

“Sometimes it’s better just to die. Liberty or death,” he said. “I declare war against the federal government.”

In past interviews, Mr. Fry said he had come to the occupation after becoming friend with one of its leaders, LaVoy Finicum, over the Internet. Mr. Finicum died on Jan. 26 in a clash with the authorities.

The refuge, about six hours from Portland, was taken over by a small band of armed militants on Jan. 2. They demanded that two local ranchers, imprisoned on arson charges for a fire that spread to public lands, be released, and that federal lands that the occupiers said were improperly taken from local ranchers in decades past be returned to local or private control.

The remaining four occupiers had repeatedly invoked the killing of Mr. Finicum, by federal agents during a traffic stop as a sign of the government’s unwillingness to bring the standoff to a peaceful end.

Mr. Finicum was shot when he reached for a firearm, the F.B.I. said. Ammon Bundy, the leader of the occupation, was arrested during the stop along with several other members of the group, including his brother, Ryan.

About 50 or 60 cars were parked at the roadblock outside the sanctuary, most of them belonging to journalists and the rest belonging to protest sympathizers waving flags and signs. One woman held a sign saying, “I live in America, not Russia.”

Thomas Wagner of Christmas Valley, Ore., stood on top of his pickup truck at the roadblock, wearing full military fatigues — from boots to helmet — and waving an American flag. A 32-year-old unemployed security guard with a Confederate flag bumper sticker on his truck, he said, “I came here to support these four patriots, to let them know that they are not being abandoned.”

The standoff has highlighted the anger of many Western ranchers and farmers over federal government ownership of vast tracts of land in Western states, which they believe should be turned over to the states or to private ownership.

Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon and Ryan, became a national figure in 2014, after federal officials tried to confiscate his cattle because he had refused for more than two decades to pay fees to the federal government for grazing his cattle on federal land. Heavily armed self-described militiamen flocked to his ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., to face down the authorities, and when the agents retreated rather than risk a shootout, Mr. Bundy hailed it as a victory for those angered by federal regulation. He has been seen as a hero by the Oregon occupiers and by people sympathetic to their cause.

Cliven Bundy’s lawyer, Michael Arnold, said his client had been arrested at the Portland airport and would face a felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties, in connection with the 2014 standoff.

Dave Seminara reported from Princeton, Ore., and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Julie Turkewitz in Denver, Kirk Johnson in Seattle and Colin Miner in Portland, Ore.


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