With their leader in jail, their escape routes closed, and pressure mounting, will the militia illegally occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge finally pack it in?
So far, it’s a mixed bag.
There are about 10 people left at the refuge, according to The Oregonian, and Ammon Bundy—who was arrested late Tuesday—issued a call via his lawyer for to them to leave. Wednesday afternoon, three of those on the site decided to leave, and were arrested as they departed. The men in custody are Jason Patrick, Duane Leo Ehmer, and Dylan Wade Anderson, according to the FBI. The men will be charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers. But Patrick said that a vote had been held among the remaining occupiers, and most had opted to stay. The Oregonian adds:
Those who remained—several armed and in camouflage—seemed skittish and scared throughout the day in a series of live video feeds. They were shown abandoning refuge buildings and heading for remote areas of the reserve in their trucks.
After weeks of stalemate, the situation at the refuge near Burns, Oregon, has suddenly become fluid. Seven members of the militia were arrested Tuesday afternoon, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, when police intercepted their cars on a highway. One man, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed during the traffic stop. The others were taken into custody and brought to a jail in Portland. An eighth man, Jon Ritzheimer, surrendered to police in Arizona. (Gawker posted the charging documents against them.) Soon afterwards, police began blocking off the roads to the refuge.
“I would say the armed occupiers have been given ample opportunity to leave the refuge peacefully,” Greg Bretzing, the FBI agent in charge of Oregon, said Wedneday. “They have been given opportunities to negotiate. As outsiders to Oregon, they have been given the opportunity to return to their families and work through the normal legal process to air grievances. They have chosen to threaten and intimidate the America they profess to love.”
Police have still not released any information publicly about what happened during the traffic stop to leave Finicum dead. Law-enforcement officials anonymously told CNN that when they tried to stop the two cars on a road between the refuge and the town of John Day, Finicum tried to drive away at high speed, then reached for his waistband. That fits with other reports about why shots were fired, but hasn’t been confirmed.
Through his lawyer, Ammon Bundy called on the remnant to leave: “To those remaining at the refuge, I love you. 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.”
In some ways, the standoff has come full circle. Ammon Bundy led the occupiers to take over the federal refuge in protest of the imprisonment of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. From prison, the Hammonds called on the Bundy gang to leave and insisted they did not speak for them. Now Ammon Bundy himself is in jail, calling on what’s left of the Bundy gang to leave. Barring a firefight, it seemed practically inevitable that this was the endgame. Given that the militia’s demands—including the Hammonds’ release and federal authorities surrendering the refuge—were always unrealistic, it’s hard to imagine how else they expected the standoff to end.