US & Canada

Oregon leader Bundy tells remaining protesters to go home

Ammon Bundy arrives to address the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon in this January 5, 2016 file photo. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ammon Bundy (centre) pictured earlier this month at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Ammon Bundy, the leader of an armed protest at a wildlife refuge in Oregon who was arrested on Tuesday, has urged the remaining occupiers to go home.

One of Mr Bundy's fellow activists was killed during the arrest of the protest leader and seven others.

Three more arrests have since been made at a checkpoint outside the refuge.

It is unclear how many people are still at the refuge. The local sheriff, Dave Ward, said the illegal occupation was tearing the community apart.

Speaking through his attorney, Mr Bundy called for the siege to come to an end.

He said: "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."

Mr Bundy paid tribute to the deceased, identified by friends and family as Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, an Arizona rancher who became a spokesman for the self-proclaimed militia group at the refuge.

"Right now I am asking the federal government to allow the people at the refuge to go home without being prosecuted," he said.


Resisting to the end: James Cook, BBC North America correspondent, recalls dead militiaman

Image copyright Reuters

In the early days of the Oregon occupation, the militiamen were a mixed bunch. There were the taciturn ones, the braggarts and the loose cannons.

And then there was LaVoy Finicum, a man who seemed to stand apart from the rest. On one foul night in the cold with sleet falling and rumours of a raid flying, Mr Finicum took his rifle and sat on the ground at the entrance to the bird reserve headquarters with the weapon on his lap.

Ignoring scoffs from the assembled reporters, he told me he would resist if police came for him. He had no intention of being caged and, if necessary, he was ready to die.

In the end he appears to have died as he predicted he might, violently and at the hands of the authorities he despised. Whatever the truth of his final moments, LaVoy Finicum leaves behind a large family, reportedly of 11 children.

"I have a 17-year-old daughter," he said. "Thank goodness she's a firecracker, I hope she can hold everything together. I'm a small producer. She'll be able to do it."

Robert 'LaVoy' Finicum, a militiaman apart


However, the FBI later announced that three further suspects who were in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge had been arrested.

It said Duane Leo Ehmer, 45, Dylan Wade Anderson, 34, and Jason Patrick, 43, had turned themselves in to FBI agents at a checkpoint outside the refuge on Wednesday.

The FBI said they faced a charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.

The other eight people arrested face the same charge.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The first eight arrested: militia leader Ammon Bundy is pictured top left

The FBI said five other people who left the refuge on Wednesday had been allowed to go.

It is still unclear how many remain at the site; however the New York Times spoke to one of the occupiers by telephone on Wednesday evening who put the figure at seven.

"We're camping out tonight here, by this campfire," 27-year-old David Fry told the newspaper, adding that they would stay "until someone starts listening or until they slaughter us".

Greg Bretzing, the head of the FBI's Portland office, said: "We will continue to look for safe, peaceful procedures on how to bring this to a peaceful conclusion."

Sheriff Ward said: "It's time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on. There doesn't have to be bloodshed in our community."

Mr Bundy's militia had occupied the refuge on 2 January to support two ranchers jailed for setting fire to federal land.

He says the government has taken land illegally from ranchers for decades.


The Oregon stand-off

Image copyright AFP

How did it begin?

In October, a federal judge ruled the sentences on two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, for burning federal land were too short and jailed them for about four years each.

Angered by the ruling, Nevada native Ammon Bundy began a social media campaign backing them and travelled to Burns, Oregon, organising meetings.

His group attracted supporters from across a number of states and Mr Bundy called it Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. On 2 January the armed militiamen took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge - and widened the range of demands.

What are the militia's aims?

It is an extension of the Sagebrush Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s that demanded the transfer of federal land in many western states to local control.

Mr Bundy's own father - a Nevada rancher - had been involved in a protest over cattle-grazing rights in 2014. One policy is to try to persuade ranchers to tear up their federal grazing contracts.

Although many local residents are sympathetic with its cause, many also oppose the occupation of the refuge. Even the local ranchers who are serving the longer sentences distanced themselves from the militia.

Are militias legal?

The term has a complex history and generally refers to those outside the official military who can be called on in times of need. The US Constitution refers to the president having command of "militia of several states" and that Congress "can call forth militia" to tackle insurrection and invasion.

Those who form such militias cite the constitution and various references in federal and state law as granting them legality.

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