Harney County holdouts 'hoping for a miracle'
While nearly 300 people squared off Monday afternoon in competing protests in front of Harney Countys courthouse, four militants in a muddy makeshift camp at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were hoping for a miracle.
David Fry of Blanchester, Ohio, Sean and Sandy Anderson of Riggins, Idaho, and Jeff Banta of Elko, Nevada, have been holed up at the refuge compound for the past seven days. They grabbed their rifles and handguns on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 26, and prepared to defend the compound from an expected attack after word spread that FBI agents had arrested leaders of the month-long federal property occupation on a stretch of Highway 395 between Burns and John Day.
During the traffic stop, 54-year-old Robert LaVoy Finicum was shot to death when FBI officials said he jumped from his truck in a snow bank and reached for a 9mm semi-automatic handgun in his jacket while Oregon State Police were trying to arrest him.
FBI officials released a video of the arrests and shooting last week, which failed to quell anger and conspiracy theories among supporters of the occupation.
Fry and the Andersons told an Internet talk show Monday that they were sticking together and hoped for a miracle to peacefully end the standoff with law enforcement officers at the compounds gate. Their hope is that all four can walk out of the compound without being arrested (Sean Anderson faces a federal charge for his part in the refuge occupation). FBI negotiators have not agreed to that request.
Im out here wondering whats going to happen to me, Fry told Revolution Radio during a nearly hour-long talk Monday, Feb. 1. Were hoping for a miracle here.
God will step in, Sean Anderson told the Internet radio talk show.
All four were left behind after more than a dozen other militants drove away from the refuge Jan. 26, ahead of what they feared was an attack by law enforcement. By the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 27, only about 10 people remained at the compound, and they were preparing for a fight. During the next few hours, several fled the refuge, leaving only those four to defend a corner of the property.
Fry, the Andersons and Banta werent given a radio so they couldnt communicate with the others who decided to leave in a hurry. They only saw taillights of vehicles speeding away.
We the People keep the refuge
Militants calling themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom took over the wildlife refuge compound Jan. 2. Led by Idaho rancher Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and several others (including Finicum), the heavily armed militants occupied the compound, which is federal Bureau of Land Management property, saying they wanted to turn all federal land in Harney County over to local ranchers.
Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy are sons of Bunkerville, Nevada, rancher Cliven Bundy, who was part of a 2014 armed standoff with federal agents and BLM employees stemming from a dispute over unpaid grazing fees. Ammon Bundy now lives in Emmett, Idaho, north of Boise.
Since his arrest, Ammon Bundy has appealed twice to the remaining four people at the refuge to end the occupation and leave the compound. Bundy first released a statement through his attorneys saying the fight was now in the courts and the occupiers should lay down their weapons and walk away. A second appeal included a YouTube video of Bundy talking with his wife and attorney by phone.
In a video posted Saturday, Fry offered a rambling response, saying the four were "standing their ground" in response to Finicum's death. They claimed the occupation was a "peaceful protest" and wanted the FBI to make a deal so all four could go free.
On Monday, Cliven Bundy sent a notarized letter by certified mail to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, President Barack Obama and Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward, telling them We the People planned to keep the wildlife refuge property. Bundys letter told the officials to remove all federal and state policing agents out of Harney County. He also asked the sheriffs office to post a guard at the refuge entrance.
None of the officials has responded to the letter.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy came to Harney County late last fall to protest the prison sentences for Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, who are serving five years in federal prison for setting fires to federal land. Ammon Bundy has demanded that the Hammonds be freed.
Once they took control of the wildlife refuge, the group renamed it the Harney County Resource Center and planned to use it as a base to strip away federal authority in the county, which they say is unconstitutional and illegal.
On Monday, about 300 people gathered in front of the county courthouse to protest some unhappy with the continued occupation, others who supported the occupation blasted Finicums death and called for more militants to rally to the groups cause. Both protests included signs and shouting.
Burns, Hines and the surrounding area have been rocked by the refuge occupation and its national attention on militants and their constitutional cause. Ward, who from the beginning has called for a peaceful resolution to the standoff, said last week that the occupation had torn the community apart.
Let the dog go
The takeovers prominent participants, including Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, Joseph OShaughnessy, Pete Santilli, Jon Ritzheimer, were in federal court last week facing a charge of conspiracy of using threats or intimidation to prevent a federal employees from doing their jobs. Each of the defendants said they were not guilty of the charge.
Cox has been released from custody. Most of the others are still in the Multnomah County Detention Center awaiting more hearings this week. A federal judge hearing the case says she will not consider releasing others until the refuge occupation is finished.
Thats not going to happen for some time, Fry told Revolution Radio Monday. He and the other three militants say they plan to stick it out. Theyre hoping hundreds of people rise up and march through the compounds gate to protect them.
We would love to see Americans rise up and come here and show the feds whos really in charge, Fry said. Walk through those gates in hordes. The cops cant shoot you all. Theyd be stupid if they try. We need hundreds of people to walk through them and come in here.
Sandy Anderson complained that the FBI should give them the same offer of safe passage that was given to everyone else who left the compound during the late night hours of Jan. 26.
Were expressing our First Amendment rights by being here," she told Revolution Radio. We have our weapons with us all the time, when we go to the store or anywhere. So now we come to use our rights and were being persecuted for it.
Mondays call to the Internet talk show was the first time in a couple of days that the four holdouts had communicated with the outside world. Their cell phones have been unable to make outside calls since Saturday, and phone lines to the refuge offices have been disabled.
They didn't explain how they were able to reach Revolution Radio's Internet broadcast.
Until Jan. 30, Fry had posted live videos on his Defendyourbase YouTube channel, updating the groups progress and talking at length about his beliefs. In one of the final videos, Fry describes finding a hungry dog that wandered into the camp from the snowy refuge property. The group called a telephone number on the dogs collar and told the owner they found the animal and offered to return it. The owner, of course, couldnt come to the refuge to claim the pet, so he told Fry and the others to just let the dog go.