“Go home and hug your families,” was the message Ammon Bundy had for the five people continuing to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. After a spate of arrests and one fatality Tuesday and Wednesday, Bundy — along with most of the rest of the occupiers – are in federal custody.
Despite the instructions from Bundy, who has been seen as the occupation’s leader, the remaining occupiers are not leaving unless their conditions are met. Among those remaining is Sean Anderson, who told CNN he, his wife, and the three others remaining are not afraid to die. But they are willing to leave the federal building peacefully if the FBI promises not to harass the occupiers on their way out.
“We are willing to leave peacefully,” Anderson said. “If the FBI will let us leave without arrest or forcing us through the checkpoint, we will all go home.”
Short of such a guarantee from the FBI, it appears Anderson and his “fellow patriots” are willing to stand their ground. None of the remaining occupiers reside in Oregon.
“No one here wants anyone to be hurt or die, but I am not afraid to die,” Anderson said.
It doesn’t seem as though Anderson and his fellow occupiers will get the unimpeded exit they are hoping for, however. In regards to arresting Bundy, a law enforcement official told the Washington Post, “We call the shots, not the bad guys.”
With Bundy under arrest, the occupiers have a leadership vacuum. Even earlier reports suggested fractures in the occupation’s leadership. Charlotte Rodrique, the chairwoman of the Burns Paiute Indian tribe which previously occupied the Oregon land, told the New York Times she is concerned about the unpredictability of the remaining occupiers.
“You have a snake out there with its head cut off, and you don’t know what it’s doing, and it’s still wriggling and unpredictable – they have no leadership to caution them,” Rodrique said.
Through his attorney, Bundy issued the statement urging the occupiers to stand down, saying the fight now will be in the courtroom.
“To those remaining at the refuge, I love you,” Bundy’s statement said. “Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down.”
Bundy, along with seven other occupiers, were arrested late Tuesday night at a barricade set up by law enforcement. LaVoy Finicum, who achieved internet fame as the occupation’s sentinel, “Tarp Man,” was killed during the stop when Bundy was arrested.
Accounts of how Finicum was killed vary. His fellow occupiers claim his hands were raised in the air and he was surrendering, but CNN reports an officer at the scene says Finicum attempted to flee in his pickup truck, crashed into a snowbank, and was shot while reaching into his waistband after exiting the vehicle. Finicum, one of the most outspoken of all the occupiers, had previously said he would rather die than go to jail.
Late Wednesday night, the FBI arrested three more occupiers at checkpoints. Occupiers had been coming and going from the refuge ever since the occupation started, with law enforcement taking a largely hands-off approach. But after the initial arrests Tuesday, the FBI has been more aggressively setting up roadblocks to nab the remaining occupiers.
For some of the residents of Burns, Oregon, the town near the wildlife refuge, the arrests have come as a relief. The Washington Post quotes Jen Hoke as being particularly happy to hear of the arrests.
“I was excited. I was waiting for four weeks for them to be arrested,” Hoke said. “I hope it ends today. That would be fabulous.”
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley echoed those sentiments, expressing praise for law enforcement and hope that the situation is coming to an end.
“The leaders of this group are now in custody and I hope that the remaining individuals occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will peacefully surrender so this community can begin to heal the deep wounds that this illegal activity has created over the last month.”
The occupation of the federal building in Oregon by a group of ranchers, militiamen and their sympathizers began January 2.
[Photo by Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office/Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office via AP]