Ammon Bundy, the leader of the militia illegally occupying a federal building, was arrested last night; another key member, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was killed in a confrontation with police.
But remaining members of the militia are vowing to continue their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Jason Patrick, one of the remaining militants, compared Finicum’s death to the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old carrying a toy gun. “The government can kill who they want for whatever reason they want with impunity,” Patrick said.
In addition to Bundy, at least 7 other militants were arrested. Separately, Jon Ritzheimer, a militant leader who gained prominence with a viral video complaining about people who sent dildos to the refuge, surrendered to authorities in Arizona.
A militia network, Operation Mutual Defense, implored members around the country to join the occupation. “You have an obligation to proceed to the Harney County Resource Center immediately. If you fail to arrive, you will demonstrate by your own actions that your previous statements to defend life, liberty, and property were false,” the group said in a statement released last night.
Law enforcement has, until this point, allowed members of the militia to come and go from the refuge. But the FBI and Oregon State Police have now established security checkpoints around the facility. According to an FBI statement, “the only people allowed to pass into the checkpoints will be Harney County ranchers who own property in those specific areas.”
A day after several leaders of the anti-government militia that has been occupying a wildlife refuge in rural Oregon were arrested and the group’s spokesman shot dead by police, the militiamen still inside the facility say they are preparing for battle with the federal authorities who now have them surrounded.
During a livestream from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday morning, an armed occupier dressed in fatigues is seen holding a rifle. He spoke directly into the camera, seemingly addressing authorities in the aftermath of the arrests and the shooting that occurred on a highway close to the refuge on Tuesday night.
“You want some militiamen? Come get some,” the man said, standing in front of what appeared to be a piece of heavy-duty excavating equipment. “It’s what you been training for, preparing for.
“Media’s been waiting for a bloodbath this whole time we’ve been here,” he added. “Now there’s going to be one.”
According to militiaman Jason Patrick, at least five or six people remain at the nature preserve, which has now been occupied for nearly four weeks as part of a fierce land dispute with the federal government. Patrick, who has assumed a leadership role after the arrests of the original commanders on Tuesday, said they would remain at the wildlife refuge until there was a “redress of grievances” from the federal government.
Patrick earlier told media to “prepare for the peaceful resolution,” but militia members seen in the live feed seemed to contradict hopes of a nonviolent solution.
At one point in the live feed, a man spoke on a phone with a person he identified as his mother and offered her reassurance.
“If I die, I died for my country, I died a free man,” he said. “That’s how I want to die.”
The man added that his group had “food and everything for the long haul.”
The livestream, broadcast by members of the occupation, has provided insights into the daily lives of the militiamen. In a series of clips posted to YouTube under an account called DefendYourBase, members have posted stream-of-consciousness ramblings about their activities and the rationale for their actions.
In one clip, militia leader Ammon Bundy, who was arrested Tuesday night, discussed a phone call he had with the FBI. In another posted on Monday, Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 55, a de facto militia spokesman who was killed in the confrontation last night with police, declared that the occupiers are “not leaving soon.”
“We’re not leaving, we’re staying,” said Finicum, who was dressed in a denim jacket and cowboy hat,. “These buildings do not ever return to the federal government.”
Few details have confirmed the chain of events that led to the fatal shooting Tuesday night. One occupier, Mark McConnell, who was driving with the convoy of leaders at the time of the highway confrontation, posted a video to Facebook describing the highway incident.
McConnell claims Finicum fled in his diesel truck after encountering a roadblock that consisted of several heavy-duty police vehicles. The brief chase that ensued ended when Finicum’s truck met a second roadblock and became stuck in a snowbank. After Finicum exited the diesel truck, he reportedly charged at law enforcement, which is when he was shot, McConnell explained.
“He charged at the law enforcement… he went after them, he charged ’em,” McConnell said of Finicum.
Ammon Bundy, and his brother Ryan Bundy, 43, who was shot in the arm during the encounter, were both arrested, along with militia leaders Brian Cavalier, 44; Shawna Cox, 59, and Ryan Payne, 32. The FBI said that three others were also arrested separately in connection with the occupation.
At a news conference in Burns, Oregon, on Wednesday, Greg Bretzing, the FBI special agent in charge of the agency’s Portland office, said that the remaining occupiers were “free to leave” the refuge and would be identified at checkpoints manned by law enforcement.
“Let me be clear: It is the actions and choices of the armed occupiers of the refuge that have lead us to where we are today,” Bretzing said.
Bretzing said he could not give details of the traffic stop and shooting incident because they are under investigation.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward also did not give details but, with his voice breaking, said, “I’m disappointed that a traffic stop yesterday that was supposed to bring peaceful resolution to this ended badly. Multiple law enforcement agencies put a lot of work into putting together the best tactical plan they could, to take these guys down peacefully…
“If it was as simple as just waiting out some folks down there to get out of some buildings, we could have waited a lot longer,” Ward continued. “But this has been tearing our community apart. It’s time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on. There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community.”
Those arrested face federal felony charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said. Local news station KATU-TV reported that the detained occupiers were expected to make an initial court appearance on Wednesday afternoon.
Amid concerns that Finicum’s killing could escalate violence, the Pacific Patriots Network, Oath Keepers and the Idaho III% — all self-styled militia groups sympathetic to the occupiers — said in a joint statement they were issuing an immediate “standby” order to followers.
“During this time, cooler heads must prevail,” the statement said. “We do not wish to inflame the current situation and will engage in open dialogue until all of the facts have been gathered.”
Authorities have now set up roadblocks at the perimeter of the wildlife compound, which is comprised of shops, office buildings, a bunkhouse, and a museum. FBI agents at the roadblocks are reportedly armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor and helmets.
The Malheur takeover, which started January 2 with at least a dozen armed men, was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres of land in the West. Protesters say they are defending the Constitution. Bundy’s father, Cliven, was a key figure in a 2014 armed standoff with federal officials over unpaid grazing fees in Nevada.
The arrests on Tuesday angered anti-government protesters across the country, said Mike Vanderboegh, a gun-rights activist active in self-proclaimed militia circles.
“It’s all I can do to keep people from going and shooting feds right now,” he told Reuters.
Back in Oregon, the arrests have only escalated tensions.
Brandon Curtiss, president of the Idaho Three Percenter militia that has patrolled Burns and provided security for the occupiers at the refuge, said no one’s leaving.
“We’re still going to maintain our same position, the community has asked us to stay, and we’re trying to be there the best we can for support and to continue our investigation,” Curtiss told The Daily Beast on Wednesday morning.
In fact, a clarion call has gone out from Oregon to militia groups and they’re heeding it. Locals told The Daily Beast they saw truckloads of new faces coming in overnight.
“I didn’t pick this day, Mom,” says one of the occupiers on a call home that was livestreamed online. “I believe God has this plan. I love you.”
If you’ve ever wanted to know what love of country taken to an extreme sounds like, turn on one of the livestreams and hear people talk about what they think they’re sacrificing and why.
The plan is less providential than it is tactical. Plenty of supplies (food and ammo) have been brought to the refuge since the takeover on Jan. 2. Unless the feds come onto the compound to evict the occupants, this could feasibly go on for a few months.
They knew it was coming eventually, of course. People laugh at the militia dudes, but plenty are ex-military and know exactly how to handle tactics in this situation, where you might lose command at any time. And they’ve had weeks to talk it over.
In case of Ammon’s arrest, whomever he’d left in charge would be in charge. Since Ammon was arrested with four top deputies, everyone is simply going to carry out the plan that was made for this eventuality.
Blaine Cooper was that guy. He’s been with the Bundys at least since Cliven’s standoff in Nevada in 2014. He’s a member of an Arizona militia and has called for the impeachment of John McCain. After the arrests, law enforcement asked the remaining occupiers to leave so Cooper reportedly had his children with him and therefore complied.
A Pilot Rock resident on his way to California was a witness to the shootout on Highway 395 between the FBI, Oregon State Police and members of the Malheur militia, he told KOIN 6 News.
Raymond Doherty said when he first arrived at the scene north of Burns around 4:40 p.m. “there was a shootout going on. So we kind of watched it, videoed it.”
He said he got out of his pickup and saw “a lot of smoke coming off of the Bundy vehicle and the FBI was hollering at them.”
He said he saw 3 protesters and as many as 15 people with the FBI and OSP.
Shots were fired, dogs began barking and “after a very short time they returned fire.”
Though there was “a lot of shooting going on,” Doherty said he didn’t see anybody get shot.
“I saw them shooting at each other.”
The shooting happened in a very short time — “maybe 12 to 15 seconds” — but there were possibly 6 shots. “I really couldn’t tell who was shooting, doing most of the shooting. I did see some shots hit the pickup,” Doherty told KOIN 6 News.
Three people surrendered, he said, coming out one at a time with their hands up.
Doherty said he wasn’t worried about his safety, as he was “back about 100 feet.” And, he said, he was not the only witness.
Neither the FBI nor OSP officials have returned calls for comment from KOIN 6 News.