Hours after the jailed leader of the occupation at a remote Oregon wildlife refuge called on his followers to “stand down,” three occupiers at the refuge — now encircled by a swarm of law enforcement officials — were arrested after turning themselves in to authorities late Wednesday.
The FBI announced that the three men — Duane Leo Ehmer, 45, of Irrigon, Ore.; Dylan Wade Anderson, 34, of Provo, Utah; and Jason S. Patrick, 43, of Bonaire, Ga. — had been in contact with the FBI and were taken into custody “without incident” after presenting themselves at one of the checkpoints around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Five others were allowed to leave but were not arrested.
Ehmer and Anderson turned themselves in about 3:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday. Patrick was arrested about four hours later.
All three face the same federal felony charge as those brought against the occupiers arrested Tuesday: conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.
It’s not clear how many people remained at the refuge as Wednesday night wore on. The group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, 40, of Emmett, Idaho, and seven other members of the armed occupation had been taken into custody the previous day in the wake of a bloody confrontation with police that left one occupier dead.
Hours after the highway showdown, officials set up checkpoints and roadblocks around the remote federal facility, saying that people who tried to travel inside would be arrested and calling for the armed people remaining there to leave. That message was echoed in a statement from Bundy later Wednesday.
And law enforcement officials suggested Wednesday that the situation at the refuge would not continue indefinitely, placing blame for the fatal encounter Tuesday on those occupying the refuge.
A total of eight people have left the refuge since law enforcement set up their blockade, the FBI said Wednesday night. The agency added that several vehicles are also known to have left the area before officials arrived.
One of those detained, Ehmer, had become a visible symbol of the takeover in recent weeks. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was known for going on morning “patrols” of the refuge carrying an American flag while riding his horse, named Hellboy.
Patrick, who become an impromptu leader for those still at the refuge after Bundy’s arrest, had been there since the occupation began more than three weeks ago. Speaking to The Washington Post on Tuesday night, Patrick said that the arrests and death wouldn’t change the occupiers’ plans. But he appeared to have a change of heart Wednesday.
B.J. Soper of nearby Bend, Ore., is a co-founder of an umbrella group for militias in the region known as the Pacific Patriot Network and had been in touch with Patrick prior to his arrest. He said Patrick had told him that he was planning to leave on Wednesday.
“I would think it’s over at this point,” Soper told The Post, before the news of the three arrests came out. Patrick “didn’t want to die.”
But Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) cautioned against declaring an end to the occupation too soon, in an interview with the Oregonian newspaper on Wednesday night. There were still people inside the facility, after all.
The FBI statement from Wednesday said that the agency and its partners “continue to work around the clock to empty the refuge of the armed occupiers in the safest way possible.”
David Fry, a 27-year-old occupier from Cincinnati, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that only a small group of holdouts remained at the secluded outpost.
“We’re just camped here by the fire,” he said. “I’m waiting on the FBI calling.”
Fry, who became the occupation’s improvised Web guru a few weeks ago, when he set up a website and YouTube channel to live-stream events from the refuge, kept the feed going via a patchy Internet connection Wednesday, even as law enforcement and a crowd of reporters gathered at the checkpoints a few miles away.
The mood of those who appeared in the video feed was alternately belligerent and defeated. On Wednesday afternoon, one man pushed his face close to the camera and encouraged other Americans to join the group at the refuge.
“Get here, get some,” he bellowed, clutching a gun in both hands. “This is history in the making. There are no laws in this United States now. This is a free-for-all Armageddon.”
But at another point, a man could be heard worrying about his finances and his family at home.
“I want to go my wife,” he said. “Sorry, guys.”
“No hard feelings,” a man replied.
All day, the refuge that had curious onlookers freely come and go for self-guided tours over recent weeks was on a tight, tense lockdown. By Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement had closed Highway 395 about three miles away from the refuge headquarters and told reporters who tried to cross the closure signs that they risked arrest.
Meanwhile, trucks carrying portable toilets and floodlights passed the barricade, following a convoy of black SUVs carrying men dressed in camouflage uniforms headed toward a police barricade about a half-mile down the road.
Among the onlookers at the road closure was William Troy Stevenson, who traveled more than 200 miles from Hermiston, Ore., with his son so that they could see the standoff for themselves.
“Are they crazies?” Stevenson wanted to know.
He said that he crossed the first road closure on foot and encountered drawn machine guns when he arrived at the police-barricaded second road closure.
“They have automatic weapons there. And there’s a lot of them,” Stevenson said of law enforcement. “They’re serious. They’ll kill you.”
After night fell, the floodlights that had been carted in illuminated the officers and vehicles that filled the stretch of frozen road.
But the scene inside the refuge — at least as shown via Fry’s videos — became imperceptible in the dark. Viewers could hear only the last lingering occupiers as they sat around a crackling campfire. The conversation meandered from the fate of their standoff — “How can we compete with that?” someone asked of the swarm of law enforcement that surrounded them — to relationships, politics and the Milky Way.
It was a dramatic shift from the tense but, until Tuesday, non-confrontational atmosphere that had surrounded the Malheur refuge since Jan. 2, when a small group of armed men and women took control of the isolated facility in southeastern Oregon’s Harney County.
The takeover was just the latest outburst in the long-running conflict over land use in the West, where a large portion of the landscape is controlled by the federal government.
Led by Ammon Bundy, the son of a Nevada rancher who had been at the center of an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in 2014, the occupiers had come and gone freely from the facility for weeks. They said they would remain at the refuge — 187,700 acres of windswept wetland and high desert known as a bird-watching mecca — until the federally controlled refuge was “returned” to the county and private owners and until two local ranchers who had been convicted of arson on public land were released from jail.
Local and federal law enforcement officials had pushed for the occupation to end peacefully, and the FBI has called its response “deliberate and measured.”
But there have been criticisms of how long it has stretched on, with the governor writing a letter urging federal officials to bring a “swift resolution” to the situation, as well as others questioning whether occupiers would have been treated with patience if they were black.
The situation broke open Wednesday, when officials stopped Bundy and several others on a stretch of highway about 50 miles north of the refuge and arrested them.
All of the people arrested on the Oregon highway surrendered to authorities except for one man, later identified as LaVoy Finicum, a spokesman for the group who had previously said he would rather die than go to jail.
An official familiar with the encounter told The Washington Post that Finicum refused to surrender and was fatally shot. He also said that the FBI had picked the time and place they would move to arrest Bundy and his followers.
Citing an unnamed law enforcement official, CNN reported that Finicum had driven off at high speed as the FBI and Oregon State Police approached the pair of vehicles carrying the occupiers. He eventually veered off the highway to avoid a road block and drove into a snowbank. When authorities ordered him to surrender, CNN said, Finicum reached toward his waistband, where he had a gun. Then a SWAT team opened fire.
Sympathizers with Finicum and the Bundys have contested this account. A woman who identified herself as Victoria Sharp posted an audio interview to YouTube in which she said that Finicum had his hands in the air when officers shot at him.
“No one even touched their gun, no one pulled their gun out. … We showed no aggression at all,” she said. The audio clip was featured prominently on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page.
Sharp’s brother confirmed to the Kansas City Star that Victoria had been in Oregon with the rest of the family, but officials made no mention of her in any statements about the Tuesday arrests. The Post could not independently confirm hers or CNN’s account.
Authorities said Wednesday they were investigating the shooting and have not revealed any details about how the incident unfolded.
One other occupier was injured in the exchange of gunfire, according to officials. The Oregonian has identified the injured person as Ryan Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nev. — Ammon Bundy’s brother.
“I’m disappointed that a traffic stop yesterday that was supposed to bring peaceful resolution to this ended badly,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said at a Wednesday morning news conference.
Ward added: “It didn’t have to happen. We all make choices in life. Sometimes our choices go bad.”
The arrests gave some locals hope that Burns — a modest city of roughly 3,000 people that found itself suddenly deluged with law enforcement and reporters — would regain some sense of normalcy.
“I was excited. I was waiting for four weeks for them to be arrested,” Jen Hoke of Burns said about hearing news of the arrests. “I hope it ends today. That would be fabulous.”
Hoke said it was frustrating that the occupiers had the freedom to “come and go” as they pleased.
“They didn’t accomplish anything,” Primrose Truesdell said.
Her husband, Ken, echoed her thoughts between sips of coffee at the Doughnut Hole in downtown Burns: “No one wanted them here. They can go back to wherever they came from. I’d wave them goodbye.”
Ward, who has previously been critical of the occupation, called for those remaining at the refuge to “move on” during the news conference Wednesday, saying that the situation was tearing the Harney County community apart.
He added: “This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America, and it can’t happen in Harney County.”
Later in the day, Ammon Bundy also called for the remaining occupiers to leave. His attorney read a statement from Bundy after an appearance in a Portland courtroom.
“Please stand down,” the statement said. “Please stand down. Go home and hug your families.”
In the statement, Bundy asked that people there be allowed to leave without being prosecuted and said that he wanted those at the refuge to let them fight the battle through the courts.
Three others were taken into custody during the highway confrontation Tuesday: Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nev.; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; and Ryan Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont. Later Tuesday afternoon, FBI agents in Burns also arrested Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Ariz., and Peter Santilli, 50, a Cincinnati man known for live-streaming refuge events.
In addition to those arrested in Oregon, Jon Ritzheimer, 32, turned himself in to the Peoria, Ariz., police department Tuesday night. Unlike some of the other occupiers, who were relatively unknown figures nationally, Ritzheimer was known for his contempt for Muslims and organizing an anti-Muslim protest last year.
A 31-page criminal complaint filed Tuesday against the Bundys, Ritzheimer, O’Shaughnessy, Payne, Cavalier, Cox and Santilli outlines the case against the occupiers. Even before the occupation began, the complaint says, O’Shaughnessy and Ritzheimer were seen intimidating a woman in Burns who was wearing a Bureau of Land Management shirt, and Bundy made threats of “extreme civil unrest” to Sheriff Ward. The complaint argues that the seizure of the Malheur refuge prevented 16 federal employees from doing their jobs and resulted in damage and degradation of the refuge.
The complaint also goes through the social media postings of the accused occupiers: a video from Ammon Bundy calling people to “bring your arms” and “come out here and stand,” a blog post from Payne that read, “We ask that others be willing to shed their blood alongside us.”
All seven appeared in court Wednesday, where an Oregon judge found that they posed a flight risk and a threat to public safety and ordered that they remain in jail.