Five armed militants remain inside an Oregon wildlife refuge two days after arrests and a roadside skirmish with FBI agents that left one occupier dead.
Newly filed court documents disclose for the first time that almost 100 federal employees of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who work in or near Burns, Ore., have been prevented from reporting to work since the illegal occupation began Jan. 2.
Those now remaining at the refuge reportedly have access to assault rifles, handguns and ammunition left behind by other occupiers who quickly fled after learning of the initial arrests Tuesday and the death of occupier Robert LaVoy Finicum, reportedly shot as he charged arresting officers on a highway north of Burns.
One of the five militants believed to still be in the refuge has been identified as David Fry, from Cincinnati. He has been posting live streaming video of the holdouts "as they drink beer, smoke marijuana and await an anticipated shootout with law enforcement officers,” Raw Story reported today.
“We’re just chilling, waiting for the government to pop us in the head or something,” Fry said in one video. “Holding our ground,” Raw Story reported.
In another YouTube video, one unidentified remaining occupier screams, “They’re coming to kill us!” In another, an armed occupier says, “You’re going to get to watch us die.”
Three occupiers surrendered at FBI roadblocks late Wednesday, including Jason Patrick, 43, of Bonaire, Ga., who reportedly assumed command of the illegal operation after Tuesday’s arrest of key leaders Ammon Bundy, his brother, Ryan, and Ryan Waylen Payne.
Besides Patrick, two other men surrendered Wednesday after leaving the refuge and were arrested at roadblocks. They were identified by the FBI as Duane Leo Ehmer, 45, of Irrigon, Ore., the only Oregon resident arrested so far in connection with the illegal occupation, and Dylan Wade Anderson, 34, of Provo, Utah.
Five other occupiers, whose identities weren’t provided by authorities, were allowed to leave the area without being arrested after they left the refuge and were stopped and identified at FBI roadblocks that now encircle the refuge south of Burns in eastern Oregon.
Patrick, who is awaiting trial on previously filed state charges of making terrorist threats in Georgia, and the Bundy brothers are alumni of the April 2014 standoff at the Bunkerville, Nev., ranch of Bundy patriarch Cliven Bundy. His fight with the federal Bureau of Land Management – still unresolved without criminal charges and without payment of $1 million owed the federal government – centered on grazing fees for his cattle.
That incident two years ago, in which armed militia members pointed firearms at federal agents, is widely seen as the catalyst for this month’s takeover of the federal reserve in Oregon.
The illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, south of Burns, began Jan. 2 after eastern Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond largely rejected antigovernment political embraces from the Bundys and reported to prison as ordered by a federal judge for committing arson on BLM grazing land.
Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, Joseph D. O’Shaughnessy and Peter Santilli were ordered held without bond as flight risks after initial appearances Wednesday in U.S. District Court. After their two-vehicle caravan was stopped and they were arrested Tuesday, the antigovernment activists were quickly taken out of rural Harney County and booked into the Multnomah County Jail, five hours and 230 miles away in Portland.
The seven defendants and an eighth man, occupier Jon Eric Ritzheimer, who surrendered in Arizona, each face a federal charge of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede U.S. government employees from discharging their official duties. Ritzheimer is expected to be returned to Oregon from Arizona shortly by deputy U.S. marshals.
After the court appearances in Portland Wednesday, Ammon Bundy released a statement through his attorney urging the remaining occupiers to “stand down and go home.” That move could be an attempt by the defense attorney to gain “substantial assistance” credit – and a correspondingly reduced prison term for Ammon Bundy – if he’s eventually convicted of committing federal crimes.
“To those remaining at the refuge, I love you,” Bundy said in the statement. “Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is ours for now in the courts. Please go home.”
The initial criminal conspiracy charge against the occupiers was filed in federal complaints that resulted in a judge issuing arrest warrants. The evidence cited in the complaint largely was gathered by the FBI from social media postings, including YouTube videos, that the occupiers produced on a daily basis while occupying the refuge.
The court documents detail how the defendants arrived in Burns late last year and engaged in intimidating conduct that Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said has divided and sent a wave of fear through the small community.
At one point two of the outsiders, including Ritzheimer, confronted and screamed at a woman wearing a BLM T-shirt in a Safeway supermarket in Burns.
As the FBI became involved after the Jan. 2 takeover of the refuge, the documents say a source told a Harney County sheriff’s deputy that the protesters “had explosives, night vision goggles, and weapons and that if they didn't get the fight they wanted out there they would bring the fight to town.”
The occupation continues to prevent 17 federal scientists, researchers and other employees of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from reporting to their year-round jobs at the sprawling 187,757-acre refuge, the largest in Oregon, an agency official confirmed. In addition, the court documents disclose for the first time, the BLM closed its regional office in the community of Hines, which adjoins Burns, on Jan. 4.
“Due to the presence of armed individuals occupying the Refuge and also learning that some of their associates were still in the Burns area, the BLM made the decision to close the Burns District Office located at 28910 Highway 20 West, Hines, Oregon,” the criminal complaint says.
“This BLM action was taken out of concern for the safety of the approximate [sic] 80 employees who work there,” the court document says.
Additional federal charges could be filed when federal prosecutors take the case to a federal grand jury, which would hear secret testimony and see probable cause evidence presented by FBI agents.
Although the case clearly falls within the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI case agent who signed the complaint is an 18-month rookie assigned to the violent and organized crime squad in the bureau’s Portland office. That move may well be another attempt by the FBI to avoid waving the “terrorism” flag as it continues investigating and prosecuting homegrown domestic terrorists with a “deliberate and measured response.”
As the first court proceeding wrapped up in Portland, scores of Oregon State Police officers and members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and regional SWAT teams tightened the noose around the refuge with heavily armed roadblocks and an impressive display of military-style equipment.
The FBI provided occupiers who remained inside the refuge with a phone number for an FBI negotiator and, according to various media accounts, there were ongoing negotiations.
The court documents detail how a source told a Harney County sheriff’s deputy that the protesters “had explosives, night vision goggles, and weapons and that if they didn't get the fight they wanted out there they would bring the fight to town.” The documents show that authorities grew concerned as the occupiers used increasingly heated rhetoric when discussing their plans and the occupation.