Occupiers say they will surrender Thursday
Cliven Bundy, the controversial Nevada rancher at the center of an armed standoff with federal officials in 2014, was arrested in Portland Wednesday, according to jail records and news reports.
He was reportedly on his way to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in isolated southeastern Oregon, where an armed occupation in its 41st day seemed to be coming to an end. The occupation had been organized by Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan, who are now in jail facing a felony charge of conspiracy to impede a federal officer.
The last remaining members of the occupation had said they will turn themselves over on Thursday morning, after the FBI appeared to close in on their encampment.
The FBI in Portland would not confirm the circumstances of elder Bundy’s arrest. But the Oregonian reported that he was apprehended at Portland International Airport after disembarking from his flight from Las Vegas late Wednesday night. The newspaper said that Bundy, 74, faces the same charge as his son in relation to his standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 2014. He also faces weapons charges, it said.
Bundy’s arrest came after federal authorities moved to surround the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Wednesday afternoon, prompting the lingering occupiers to have a panicked phone conversation with a few of their supporters, including Nevada state assemblywoman, Michele Fiore, that was broadcast over a livestream on YouTube
Initially the occupiers said they feared an armed assault by agents was imminent. But late Wednesday night local time, after a phone conversation that lasted more than four hours, one of occupiers said they planned to emerge from the refuge in the morning so long as Fiore was there to act as a witness and ensure that the occupation ended peacefully.
Mike Arnold, an attorney for Ammon Bundy who took part in Fiore’s phone negotiations and was en route to the wildlife refuge with her early Thursday, told The Washington Post that he was “extremely disappointed” by the news of Cliven Bundy’s arrest.
“It was a horrible strategic move to arrest Cliven while negotiations were literally happening over the phone,” he said. “That is not a symbol of good faith.”
But he believed that the agreement reached Wednesday night would still hold.
“We can take comfort in the incompetent strategic move by the federal government,” he said, because it showed that “if Cliven Bundy can be arrested peacefully — the lightning rod of much of the discourse on these issues — then the folks at the refuge should rest assured that the FBI will honor their promise to peacefully end this.”
Cliven Bundy’s arrest came just hours after the FBI moved to surround the spot where the lingering occupiers were camped Wednesday evening.
According to a statement issued by the FBI in Oregon, authorities made their move after one of the occupiers rode an ATV at 4:30 p.m. local time outside the enclosure where the handful of occupiers have been barricaded.
“FBI Agents attempted to approach the driver and he returned to the encampment at a high rate of speed,” the statement said.
The FBI moved to “contain” the remaining four occupiers by posting agents at the barricades in front of and behind the spot where the occupiers are camping, the statement continued.
“Negotiations between the occupiers and the FBI continue,” it said. “No shots have been fired.”
A neighbor who lives near the Malheur Refuge, 30 miles south of Burns, Ore., told The Washington Post that residents have been told to stay in their homes until the police give clearance.
Greg Bretzing, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon, gave a statement in support of the move to surround those still at the refuge.
“It has never been the FBI’s desire to engage these armed occupiers in any way other than through dialogue, and to that end, the FBI has negotiated with patience and restraint in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully,” he said. “However, we 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.”
Meanwhile, occupiers could be heard yelling at what they said was an FBI negotiator, according to the Associated Press.
“You’re going to hell. Kill me. Get it over with,” yelled David Fry, sounding overwrought. “We’re innocent people camping at a public facility, and you’re going to murder us.”
Wednesday marks day 40 of the occupation. Two weeks ago, leader Ammon Bundy and several others were arrested after a confrontation with police that left one man dead. In the days and weeks since, more than a dozen people involved the in the occupation have been arrested and several others voluntarily left the remote spot in southeastern Oregon after the FBI set up a blockade.
All of those arrested have been charged with conspiracy to impede a federal officer, the same felony charge facing the four holdouts who remain.
Those occupiers are 27-year-old Fry, who has been running a YouTube live stream, married couple Sean and Sandy Anderson, and a man named Jeff Banta, according to the Oregonian.
They’ve been alone at the refuge since Jan. 26, when the rest of the occupiers voluntarily left and surrendered to law enforcement. Defying calls to stand down from Oregon officials, law enforcement, Harney County locals and even Bundy, they’ve remained holed up inside the FBI blockade. In videos streamed by Fry, the occupiers were by turns desperate and defiant and increasingly inclined toward pranky stunts. One from early this week showed Fry doing doughnuts in a U.S. government vehicle.
“I think I want to take it on a little joy ride. You know?” Fry said. “Let’s start this baby up. Now you’ve got another charge on me, FBI. I am driving your vehicle.”
But in the phone conversation broadcast over YouTube, Fiore — speaking to the occupiers from Portland International Airport — repeatedly had to call for calm, as Fry yelled incoherently and other occupiers broke into shouts or tears.
“People are watching,” she assured them, asking them to recite prayers.
But the occupiers insisted that they could not trust the FBI’s promise of a peaceful resolution, and seemed certain that the standoff would end in violence.
“They killed LaVoy,” one man yelled. LaVoy Finicum, a spokesperson for the occupation, was fatally shot by Oregon state troopers during a highway confrontation in January when Bundy and four others were arrested.
“We’re not giving them any reason [to fire],” another person said. “But my weapon is within reach.”
The phone call was orchestrated by Gavin Seim, a failed Washington congressional candidate and self-proclaimed “liberty speaker.”
At the refuge, 187,700 acres of isolated grassland about 150 miles southwest of Bend, yelled conversations between the occupiers and law enforcement broke through the nighttime quiet of the high desert.
“Come out with your hands up,” a voice could be heard saying, according to the Oregonian. “There’s nowhere for you to go.”
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” Fry shouted back.
Over the phone, Fiore told the occupiers she would negotiate with law enforcement on behalf of those who remain.
“A grand jury has issued an indictment outside the Constitution, and we can fight that,” she said. “But we can’t fight if you die. … You guys have to come out. You need to stand down.”
Fiore said she wanted to come to the refuge and accompany the occupiers out on Thursday morning, telling the occupiers that she and Mike Arnold, an attorney for Ammon Bundy, were driving to Burns as they spoke. But the FBI has not allowed anyone onto the refuge since late January, when it set up its blockade.
Fiore, a Republican member of the Nevada state assembly who has been an outspoken gun rights advocate, traveled to Oregon Wednesday to advocate for Bundy and other occupiers. She is demanding that authorities release body cam anddash cam footage of the traffic stop in which Finicum was killed; the FBI has released aerial footage of the highway encounter but the video is fuzzy and taken from a distance.
“We have questions,” Fiore told the Las Vegas Sun.
The people still at the refuge have said they will not leave as long as they face charges and a possible prison term.
“I can’t even describe to you how wrong it is i feel to be giving myself into the hands of the enemy,” Sandy Anderson said. “ We’re going to lose our rights.”
On Wednesday night, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy — father of Ammon Bundy — who was involved in a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights in 2014, announced on his Facebook page that he was heading to Burns to support the occupiers. He urged patriots and militia groups to join him.
“Wake up America!” his all-caps message read. “It’s time!”
Since it began on Jan. 2, the occupation has been at the center of a heated debate on the power of the federal government and land use in the West. In Oregon more than half of all land is federally controlled, and disputes over land use and environmental regulations are a familiar source of conflict.
The occupiers said that they would not leave until the Malheur Refuge was “returned” to the county and private landowners and two ranchers who had been imprisoned for setting fires on public lands were released from jail.
But after his arrest last month, Ammon Bundy called for the remaining occupiers to stand down.
“Go home and hug your families,” he said. “This fight is ours for now — in the courts.”