With FBI ring tightening, last Oregon occupiers give up
REBECCA BOONE & MARTHA BELLISLE
Feb. 12, 2016
BURNS, Ore. (AP) — With the FBI tightening its ring around them, the last four holdouts in the armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon surrendered Thursday, ending a 41-day standoff that left one man dead and exposed simmering anger over the government's control of vast expanses of Western land.
Federal authorities in six states also arrested seven other people accused of being involved in the occupation and brought charges against a leader of the movement who organized a 2014 standoff. Two more suspects remained at large.
The last occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge gave up without incident a day after federal agents surrounded the site.
Nearby residents were relieved.
"I just posted hallelujah on my Facebook," said Julie Weikel, who lives next to the nature preserve. "And I think that says it all. I am so glad this is over."
At least 25 people have now been indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to impede employees at the wildlife refuge from performing their duties.
Meanwhile, Cliven Bundy, who was at the center of the 2014 standoff at his ranch in Nevada, was arrested late Wednesday in Portland after encouraging the occupiers not to give up. Bundy is the father of Ammon Bundy, the jailed leader of the Oregon occupation.
The elder Bundy appeared in federal court Thursday in Portland to hear the charges against him, all of which stem from the 2014 confrontation with federal authorities in Nevada.
He's accused of leading supporters who pointed military-style weapons at federal agents trying to enforce a court order to round up Bundy cattle from federal rangeland. The charges include conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, obstruction of justice and weapons charges.
Federal authorities have not said why they chose to arrest the 69-year-old now. They may have feared Bundy's presence would draw sympathizers to defend the holdouts.
At the court hearing, the elder Bundy asked for a court-appointed attorney. U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart said she wanted to see financial documents first. She set a detention hearing for next Tuesday, and Bundy will stay in jail until then.
Bomb squads planned to go through the refuge's buildings to make sure no explosives were left behind, said Greg Bretzing, the agent in charge of the FBI's Portland division.
The refuge will remain closed for weeks as specialists collect evidence and try to determine whether the occupiers damaged any tribal artifacts and burial grounds sacred to the Burns Paiute Tribe, he said.
Videos posted online showed members of the armed group exploring buildings at the site and criticizing the way tribal artifacts were stored there.
The last four occupiers had been living in a rough encampment on refuge grounds. The videos sometimes showed group members living in tents or gathered around a campfire, driving vehicles and setting up barricades. They erected a canopy next to a pickup truck and an old car and put camping chairs and coolers around it. The area appeared strewn with plastic water bottles, cardboard boxes, clothes, packages of bullets and beer cans.
The last four occupiers were scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Portland. They are 27-year-old David Fry of Blanchester, Ohio; Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada; and married couple Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, of Riggins, Idaho.
The FBI began moving in Wednesday evening, surrounding their encampment with armored vehicles. Over the next several hours, the occupiers' panic and their negotiation with FBI agents could be heard live on the Internet, broadcast by a sympathizer of the occupiers who established phone contact with them.
The Andersons and Banta surrendered first on Thursday. Fry initially refused to join them.
"I'm making sure I'm not coming out of here alive," he said at one point Thursday, threatening to kill himself. "Liberty or death, I take that stance."
After ranting for a while, he too gave up.
Federal authorities were criticized during the occupation for not acting sooner to end it. But some experts said the FBI's strategy of letting tensions die down before moving in ensured there would be no bloodshed.
"This was beautifully executed," said Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor at California State University, San Bernardino. "This siege and the way it was handled will go down in law enforcement textbooks."
The standoff began when Ammon Bundy and his followers took over the refuge south of Burns, demanding that the government turn over the land to locals and release two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires.
Federal agents, Oregon state troopers and sheriff's deputies monitored the occupation to avoid a confrontation. As the weeks passed, there were growing calls for the FBI to act, including from Oregon's governor.
They did, on Jan. 26. On that day, Ammon Bundy and other occupation leaders were heading for the town of John Day to give a talk on federal overreach. FBI agents and Oregon state troopers stopped the group's two-vehicle convoy. Robert "LaVoy" Finicum was shot dead in that confrontation. The FBI said he was reaching for a pistol inside his jacket pocket.
A total of 12 people were arrested that week, including Ammon Bundy. Most of the occupiers fled the refuge after hearing they would not be arrested if they left quickly. Four stayed behind, saying they feared they would be arrested if they left.
Oregon elected officials rejoiced at the end of the long occupation but said it will take a while for the rural area to recover. Gov. Kate Brown called the episode "very traumatic."
"The level of harassment and intimidation by folks who were staying in the Burns community was horrific," she said. "And the healing will take a long time."
Bellisle reported from Seattle. Associated Press writers Terrence Petty in Portland, Oregon, and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and AP videographer Manuel Valdes in Burns contributed to this report.