BURNS, Ore.—Three of the four armed occupiers of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon apparently turned themselves in Thursday, a day after authorities moved in to the property nearly six weeks into the takeover and arrested a figure in the fight against federal control of public lands.
The holdouts were the last remnants of the group that seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2, demanding the government turn over the land to locals and release two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires.
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The surrender is playing out over a phone call on an open line streamed live on the Internet by an acquaintance of occupier David Fry, who delayed leaving the refuge after he said the other three walked out.
The FBI hasn’t confirmed that the three surrendered, and the area was too far away for reporters at the scene to see.
Fry, an Ohio resident, said he “declares war against the federal government” and shouted on the call with his acquaintance and a Nevada legislator who drove to the site to help negotiate their exit.
“Liberty or death, I take that stance,” he said. The holdouts and 12 others connected with the occupation have been charged with conspiracy to interfere with federal workers.
He later said he was pointing a gun at his head.
A day earlier, officers went in to barricade the refuge. The situation Wednesday had reached a point where it “became necessary to take action” to ensure the safety of all involved, said Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon.
The four previously refused to leave even after group leader Ammon Bundy and others were arrested on a remote road outside the refuge on Jan. 26 in a traffic stop that also led police to shoot and kill an Arizona rancher, who the FBI says was reaching for a gun. Most of the occupiers fled the refuge after that.
Bundy’s father, Cliven, joined his son behind bars Wednesday after arriving in Portland from Las Vegas. The elder Bundy led an armed standoff with federal officials over grazing rights two years ago in Nevada.
He was not charged in connection with the 2014 standoff near his ranch until Thursday.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas charged Cliven Bundy, 69, with conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, obstruction, weapons charges and other crimes.
It accuses him of leading supporters who pointed military-style weapons at federal agents trying to enforce a court order to round up Bundy cattle from federal rangeland. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had a lawyer to represent him ahead of a court appearance in federal court in Portland.
Federal authorities say the family has not made payments toward a $1.1 million grazing fee and penalty bill.
Cliven Bundy encouraged supporters to flock to Oregon to support the occupiers. Besides Ohio resident Fry, they are: Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada; and married couple Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, of Riggins, Idaho.
A Nevada legislator, Michele Fiore, revived her efforts to get Fry to calm down and give himself up. The Republican member of the Nevada Assembly had been in Portland to support the jailed Bundy.
The FBI moved in after one of the occupiers rode an ATV outside “the barricades established by the militia” at the refuge, Bretzing said in a statement. When FBI agents tried to approach the driver, Fry said he returned to the camp at a “high rate of speed.”
The FBI placed agents at barricades around the occupiers’ camp, Bretzing said.
“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.
Federal authorities likely decided to move in over concerns about dealing with a larger group, an expert said.
“The FBI looks at the concept of group dynamics, and they don’t have the upper hand with a big and ungainly crowd,” said Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor at California State University, San Bernardino. “When you’ve got many armed people taking positions, it’s not going to end well.”