More than a month since a group of anti-government extremists took over a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon and nearly nearly two weeks since the authorities arrested most of the group’s leaders in a dramatic confrontation that left one of the occupier’s dead, the standoff drags on with no end in sight.
Hopes that arrests of the ringleaders would lead to a quick and peaceful resolution to the ongoing takeover have diminished as the holdouts still at the refuge dig in and the occupier who was killed, LaVoy Finicum, has been elevated as a martyr in extremist circles. The remaining diehards at the Malheur National Wildlife Center have re-dubbed it “Camp Finicum.”
National attention on the standoff has waned since Finicum’s death, but things have continued to get weirder. Franklin Graham, the minister, has gotten involved at some level to try to bring an end to the standoff. Ammon Bundy, the main leader who is now jailed in Portland, reportedly in solitary confinement, has been making regular statements to the public via recorded messages released by his lawyers, and police have tightened the cordon around the refuge even as the handful of militants holed up inside have sounded the call for their supporters on the outside to “stand up” in their defense.
Here’s what has happened since Ammon Bundy and brigade were arrested last month:
Since immediately after his arrest, Ammon Bundy has shifted his tone in the messages he has been delivering through his lawyers. At first, his attorneys read statements in which he urged the remaining occupiers to leave the refuge. But more recently, his lawyers have posted audio messages apparently recorded of Bundy in jail in which Bundy directs his scorn at authorities.
“Go home Oregon State Police. You have already killed enough,” he said in one message last week. “Go home FBI. It is time to end this.”
In another that was posted Monday, Bundy urged elected officials to stand up for the occupiers now facing federal charges.
“It is your duty to hold federal agencies at bay, protecting the people in your state,” he said.
Bundy, along with more than a dozen others involved in the takeover, were in indicted by a grand jury on a single count of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States. Eight occupiers, including Bundy, were arrested Jan. 28, and three more were arrested the next day, though some of them have been released from custody on bail.
David Fry — a self-described gamer, the tech guru for the occupiers, and one of the four people believed to be still at the refuge — posted a series of videos to YouTube Sunday. He called the transmission a “miracle” after the occupiers told Oregon Public Radio last week they believed the FBI had shut off their lines of communication.
In one message, Fry called those who reportedly disrupted a make-shift memorial site for Finicum “trash” and said, “It’s time that the good people stand up, bear arms and tell all these evil trash people to piss off.”
He also signaled the need for more support for those within the refuge, as “supplies aren’t unlimited.”
“How much longer are the American people going to sit here and wait and let the FBI snuff people like us out?” Fry said. “We are out here making a stand.”
In another video — titled “Shove your charges where the sun dont [sic] shine!” — Fry shows off the federal property his group has hijacked, and takes a vehicle owned by the government for a “joy ride.”
“We are going to use every resource we have here. And I think we have every right to do that,” he said.
Another video features Sean and Sandy Anderson, a husband-wife duo who remain at the refuge and claim they are being “held hostage” because they now face criminal charges.
“The rest of them have felonies, that’s not going to make us want to go home any sooner,” Sean said.
Franklin Graham has also been called upon by the occupiers to act as an intermediary between authorities and those still at the refuge. Graham’s spokesman confirmed last week he had been in contact with both sides of the dispute, and in a YouTube video posted Sunday, Fry recounted the phone conversation he had with the evangelist.
“I never talked to him before this. i never actually followed him much before this. But speaking to him on the phone he seems like a pretty good guy,” Fry said. “We asked for prayers. We asked that people in America know to give us prayers so we can make it through this.”
Fry also referenced a message Graham posted on his Facebook page Saturday in which Graham said he was “praying” for a peaceful resolution for the “complicated” dispute.
The authorities, meanwhile, do not appear eager to further escalate the situation, but have shut off access to and from the refuge, limiting the occupiers’ lines of communication and supplies.
According to Oregon Public Radio, over the weekend law enforcement erected signs to further discourage any attempts to reach the refuge — be it by a member of the media or a militia man wishing to join the occupation. The lighted sign flashes the messages, “Road Closed, “No Unlawful Entry” and “Subject To Arrest.”
The occupiers have been calling upon local sheriffs to join them in their fight against federal officials, an idea the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association rejected in a statement released Friday that said the group does “not agree with or support any citizen or elected official who would advocate for change in a manner that includes illegal action, threats of violence, or violence against any citizen of the United States.”
The question of who will ultimately pay for the occupation has also come up. U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill last week that would shift the $100,000 per week he estimated the occupation cost local and state authorities to the federal government, which in turn could recoup the costs from the occupiers via a Department of Justice civil suit.
The funeral held for Finicum in Kanab, Utah, Friday prompted demonstrations across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and at the funeral site itself, where more than a thousand people showed up. At the various “vigils” across the Pacific northwest, protestors carried signs that said “Rural Lives Matter” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”
Cliven Bundy was in attendance at the funeral, seated on horseback behind the Finicum family, according to Oregon Public Radio. The elder Bundy did not participate in the Oregon takeover but knew Finicum from the 2014 stand-off at the Bundy ranch.
“He was basically crucified,” Cliven Bundy said.
Pete Santilli, a talk radio host who has a YouTube show, was among those arrested for his involvement in the occupation, but was unsuccessful in his attempts to convince a judge to release him on bail.
The Huffington Post reported that he was often seen with his domestic partner Deborah Jordan — who also traveled to Burns, Oregon after the takeover — carrying gear and standing with the press. His lawyers also produced receipts from a local motel to prove he wasn’t participating in the takeover.
Nevertheless, prosecutors pointed to videos posted to his YouTube account supportive of the occupiers and even calling for others to join them. Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman denied his request to be released from custody on bail, citing claims Santilli made on his YouTube show well before the occupation that he had a cache of unregistered guns.