Skip to main content

After Three Weeks, The FBI Promises ‘Deliberate and Measured’ Response to Oregon Standoff

The federal government claims to have a plan to handle the antigovernment extremists who have occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

“The FBI recognizes that many in the community have questions about why we are here and our role in helping to end the occupation of the wildlife refuge,” the FBI said in a statement released yesterday. “This occupation has caused tremendous disruption and hardship for the people of Harney County, and our response has been deliberate and measured as we seek a peaceful solution.”

The announcement comes one day after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown admonished the federal government for failing to address the “armed radicals” at the wildlife refuge. In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, Brown criticized the federal lack of response to “the unlawful seizure of the refuge by criminals seeking to advance a misguided agenda.”

“I must insist on a swift resolution to this matter. Efforts to negotiate have not been successful, and it is unclear what steps, if any, federal authorities might take to bring this untenable situation to an end and restore normalcy to this community,” Brown wrote.

The divide between state and federal lawmakers hinges on the question of how best to resolve the occupation, which began on Jan. 2 when antigovernment activists led by the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy stormed and renamed the federal building the Harney County Resource Center. The caution seems focused on avoiding another deadly standoff situation such as the federal raid on Randy Weaver’s family cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and the siege on the Branch Davidian compound a year in later in Waco, Tex.

Those events have already been referenced as a cautionary tale to law enforcement from Stewart Rhodes, head of the Oath Keepers, a group of retired military and police personnel.

Earlier this week, in a letter addressed to law enforcement and military and framed as a “warning,” Rhodes cautioned law enforcement to “tread lightly” in dealing with the militants, many of whom hold Rhodes and his organization in high esteem.

“This is not an emergency situation, unless you turn it into one,” Rhodes said, laying preemptive blame on federal authorities for any escalation that may come. “These ranchers, cowboys, and veterans just happen to be armed, as westerners tend to be. Get over it.  There are no hostages, there are no close-by neighbors at risk, there is nobody there except those who want to be.”

The irony here is that law enforcement has been overly welcoming to the occupiers, despite their vows that those inside were willing to “kill or be killed” if demands to open up all public lands were not met. To date, only Kenneth Medenbach, 62, of Crescent, Ore., has been arrested. Medenbach was arrested for taking a government vehicle to a Safeway in Burns, about 30 miles away, to buy supplies for the refuge.

By most accounts, crimes have been committed, not to mention the obvious occupation of a federal building. Occupiers have gone through government computers, torn down fences erected by the U.S. Forest Service, paved an unauthorized road through sacred Native American land and, according to many news reports, left residents in surrounding areas feeling threatened and intimidated. Area schools also have been closed, and occupiers have removed federal cameras, and more.

Harney County Sheriff Doug Harney County David Ward –– the only law enforcement agency generally respected by antigovernment extremists –– even tried to end the occupation peacefully a week after it began with offers to provide the Bundy brothers and their supporters safe passage from the county and out of Oregon.

“I am here to escort you safely out of town,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward told Ammon Bundy during a meeting on Jan. 8. “I’m willing to get you an escort all the way out of the state.” Ammon Bundy declined, and conversations with law enforcement ceased until video surfaced yesterday showing an apparent conversation between Bundy and FBI negotiators.

It is unclear in the video if the negotiator is in Oregon, or speaking with Ammon from Washington, D.C., where federal authorities are surely monitoring the situation. But with each passing day, more and more antigovernment organizations are falling in line with the occupiers, and Brown’s pleas for a federal response are falling in stark relief to reality.

“I request on behalf of my fellow Oregonians that you instruct your agencies to end the unlawful occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as safely and quickly as possible,” Brown wrote.

Only time will tell if the governor's request meets the FBI’s intentions for the "deliberate and measured" action.  

Banner Photo Credit: Getty Images.

Comments, suggestions or tips? Send them to HWeditor@splcenter.org and follow us on Twitter @Hatewatch.