Feb 11, 2016

Three of last four Oregon refuge occupiers appear to surrender, final occupant vows not to leave

Washington Post


February 11, 2016 


BURNS, Ore. — The armed occupation of a wildlife refuge seemed to dwindle to just one person on Thursday morning, a distraught-sounding man who was heard on a livestream saying that he would not surrender along with his compatriots.

Figures including a religious leader and a Nevada legislator had traveled to Oregon to try and coax the four remaining occupiers out of the refuge on Thursday, saying that the standoff was approaching a possible end after more than a month.

But on a telephone call from inside the refuge broadcast to more than 31,000 listeners on YouTube, a man identified as David Fry insisted that even as the other three had turned themselves in, he would not come out “unless my grievances are heard.”

An increasingly agitated Fry was heard shouting at the people speaking to him, mentioned having suicidal thoughts and insisted that he was standing up to the federal government and demanded unspecified protections. Fry also said he was telling the FBI that

“I don’t want to be put behind bars,” he said at one point. “I don’t want to take that risk….I didn’t kill anybody.”

His comments veered from abortion and drone strikes in Pakistan to references to Vietnam, the Cold War and the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager killed in Florida in 2012.

The fluid situation on Thursday added to a saga that had already taken an unexpected turn the night before, when law enforcement officers surrounded the remaining four occupants at the refuge while other officers arrested Cliven Bundy, father of the group’s leader and himself a veteran of armed standoffs with federal agents, as he arrived in Portland.

It was not clear if the arrest of Bundy had any impact on the stated plans of the four remaining occupiers to surrender to the FBI, an agreement reached after a phone call with the four that was also streamed online Wednesday before an audience of tens of thousands.

Mike Arnold, an attorney for Bundy’s son and one of the people who worked to negotiate an end to the standoff, called the arrest “a horrible strategic move” but said he did not think it would change the plans.

As the sun rose over the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday, the situation in some ways was unchanged from the previous 40 days: An occupying group unhappy with the federal government was inside the facility, which has become an unlikely nexus of national attention since it was seized Jan. 2.

But the stalemate had shifted again late Tuesday and into Wednesday, just as it had two weeks earlier when the FBI and Oregon State Police suddenly made a round of arrests that included Ammon Bundy, the group’s leader, fatally shot another occupier who they said had reached for a gun, and then blockaded the facility.

The FBI said that its agents moved onto the refuge and surrounded the remaining occupiers Wednesday afternoon after one of them rode an all-terrain vehicle outside the group’s encampment.

“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,” Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Oregon division, said in a statement. “However, we reached a point where it became necessary to take action in a way that best ensured the safety of those on the refuge, the law enforcement officers who are on scene, and the people of Harney County who live and work in this area.”

The FBI has not released any additional statements on the negotiations or the standoff. However, the remaining occupiers gave their own accounts late Wednesday to a growing audience listening online over a period of several hours after the FBI surrounded the encampment.

The four had participated in a panicked phone conversation with supporters — including Nevada state assemblywoman Michele Fiore, an ally of the Bundy family — that was also broadcast over a livestream on YouTube.

This conversation’s audience ballooned to as many as 64,000 listeners at some point, an audience that discovered, through social media or news accounts, a surreal, frantic call with a Nevada lawmaker trying to calm the occupiers as they shouted about the Constitution, a shootout with the FBI, fears of prison and the movie “Braveheart.”

Fiore is an unusual peacemaker, an elected official from another state who has supported the Bundy family in the past and has a history of controversial comments that have continued through this occupation.

Last month, the Oregon State Police fatally shot LaVoy Finicum, one of the occupiers, after he tried to flee from officers during the stop that saw Ammon Bundy and others arrested. Finicum’s death prompted new protests and anger among anti-government protesters.

The FBI later released video footage showing Finicum almost running over one law enforcement official and then appearing to reach toward a loaded gun in his jacket. Before that footage was released, Fiore wrote on Twitter that Finicum “was just murdered with his hands up in Burns.” After the footage came out, Fiore told the Las Vegas Sun that the video “looks like an ambush of tactical guys,” adding: “It looks like it might have been hired out. We have questions.”

Fiore had arrived in Portland on Wednesday after declaring her intention to meet with lawmakers to advocate for Ammon Bundy and others. After arriving at the airport, she was urging the occupiers to give up peacefully and take their fight to court while also reaching out to the FBI and trying to communicate with evangelist Franklin Graham, hoping to get him to the occupation site to witness a surrender.

The remaining holdouts going into Thursday were Fry, 27, who had been running a YouTube livestream; Sean and Sandy Anderson, a married couple; and a man named Jeff Banta, according to the Oregonian.

The livestream offered an extended look at their mindset. One of them insisted that she would only give herself into custody if she could bring her gun. In the background, a voice could be heard on a bullhorn faintly telling the four to come out with their hands up.

Fiore tried to reassure the occupiers that “people are watching” and asked them to pray.

“A grand jury has issued an indictment outside the Constitution, and we can fight that,” she said. “But we can’t fight if you die. … You guys have to come out. You need to stand down.”

But the occupiers insisted that they could not trust the FBI’s promise of a peaceful resolution, and they seemed certain that the standoff would end in violence.

“They killed LaVoy,” one man could be heard yelling. Another person said: “We’re not giving them any reason” to fire, but added, “But my weapon is within reach.” Sandy Anderson said that giving up would be “giving myself into the hands of the enemy.”

The phone call was orchestrated by Gavin Seim, a failed Washington congressional candidate and self-proclaimed “liberty speaker.”

In the end, after more than four hours, one of occupiers said they planned to emerge from the refuge Thursday morning as long as Fiore was there to act as a witness and ensure that the occupation ended peacefully.

Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, wrote on Facebook that he has been talking with the four holdouts for a week at their request and at the request of the FBI.

“I am on my way there. … Please keep them, law enforcement officials, and all involved in your prayers, that everyone will be safe,” he wrote early Thursday morning.

There was no sign of Graham or anyone else arriving at the refuge as the morning wore on, with a group of journalists and one supporter of the occupiers the only visible sight other than law enforcement vehicles.

Another prominent figure had also hoped to travel to the refuge. Cliven Bundy, the rancher who faced off with federal agents in 2014 before the government backed down, traveled to Portland on Wednesday night, where he was promptly arrested by FBI agents.

Bundy, 74, was taken to a detention center in Multnomah County. The FBI has not released charges for him and no charging documents had been filed by Thursday morning, so it was unclear whether his arrested related to the ongoing standoff or the 2014 confrontation.

A defiant Bundy had insisted last month that the government — which had attempted to confront him over the $2 million he owes for grazing his cattle on U.S. property, only to stand down after guns were aimed at federal agents — has “no policing power” over his ranch.

Experts had said the outcome of the Bundy ranch standoff “invigorated” anti-government groups. Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, one of the country’s leading specialists on right wing radicals, said that a showdown like the one in Oregon “was inevitable … because the anti-government extremists have been itching for a confrontation with the federal government.”

The refuge standoff began Jan. 2 when Ammon Bundy, Cliven’s son, and others traveled there to support two local ranchers convicted of arson and sentenced to prison. This group, which adopted the name Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, also said they were protesting the federal government’s involvement in land ownership in the area, a long-standing issue for people in Western states frustrated with how this land is managed.

Ammon Bundy, his brother and others were arrested Jan. 26 when law enforcement officers moved quickly to take them into custody while they traveled on a highway outside the refuge. It was during this encounter that Finicum attempted to flee and was shot.

By the next morning, federal agents had blockaded the refuge and, as other occupiers fled or were arrested, the occupation shrunk to the four who still remained Thursday morning.

Ammon Bundy and the four still at the refuge are among the 16 people indicted over the Oregon standoff. The group “prevented federal officials from performing their official duties by force, threats and intimidation,” according to the indictment.

While Bundy had initially released statements after his arrest asking those at the refuge to “stand down” and give up peacefully, he changed his tone last week. In one statement last week, he made demands regarding how Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward should block off the refuge so the lands can be given “back to the people.” In a recorded message after the indictment was unsealed, Bundy told the Oregon State Police and FBI to go home, leaving out any suggestion that the occupiers should leave.

Mike Arnold, an attorney for Ammon Bundy who took part in Fiore’s phone negotiations and was heading to the refuge with her, told The Post that he was “extremely disappointed” by the news of Cliven Bundy’s arrest.

“That is not a symbol of good faith,” he said.

But he said he did not believe it would shake the agreement to have the four occupiers surrender.

“We can take comfort in the incompetent strategic move by the federal government,” he said, because it showed that “if Cliven Bundy can be arrested peacefully — the lightning rod of much of the discourse on these issues — then the folks at the refuge should rest assured that the FBI will honor their promise to peacefully end this.”


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