The remaining armed protestors occupying a U.S. federal wildlife refuge in the northwestern state of Oregon have agreed to turn themselves in Thursday morning, according to media reports.
As that development was unfolding, word came that the patriarch of the family at the center of the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge had been arrested Wednesday night.
Cliven D. Bundy, a Nevada rancher who in 2014 sparked an armed confrontation with officials over cattle grazing rights on federal land, was apprehended in Portland, Oregon court records show. Bundy, whose sons were leaders of the Malheur refuge protest, was reportedly on his way to the refuge when he was arrested.
‘Necessary to take action’
Federal law enforcement officials surrounded the four remaining protestors at the refuge late Wednesday.
Greg Bretzing, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Oregon, said the situation «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.»
Authorities said they encircled the camp after one of the protestors drove an all-terrain vehicle outside barricades the protestors themselves had erected earlier. Officials said an attempt was made to approach the driver, but he drove away «at a high rate of speed.»
Confrontation streamed live online
For hours after authorities closed in, an acquaintance of one of the occupiers streamed a phone call with the four live on the Internet. During the call, FBI agents could occasionally be heard calling to the protestors on a loudspeaker, demanding that they put down their weapons and surrender. The protestors could also be heard shouting responses to law enforcement.
Nevada state lawmaker Michele Fiore, who said she was trying to help end the standoff, also joined the call as she was enroute to the refuge. One of the holdouts, Sean Anderson, told Fiore the group had agreed to turn themselves in at an FBI checkpoint at 8 a.m. Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
The standoff began Jan. 2 when an anti-government militia group composed of about 100 ranchers, farmers, and so-called survivalists took over the refuge. The group was led by Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon.
Ammon Bundy and most of the group’s leadership – including Ammon’s brother Ryan – were arrested Jan. 26 when they left the refuge for a meeting and authorities stopped the protestor’s vehicles. Shots were fired during the incident, and one of the occupiers, Robert Finicum, was killed. Federal officials said Finicum reached into his jacket for a handgun, a claim the protestors and their supporters dispute.
Most of the occupiers left in the days and weeks after the arrests, but the four remaining have said they want assurances they won’t face charges if they leave.
A federal grand jury has indicted 11 people arrested for their roles in the refuge occupation, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy.