Cliven Bundy, the leader of a 2014 Nevada ranch stand-off with federal agents, was arrested on Wednesday at the same time the remaining four anti-government militants still holed up at a national wildlife refuge in Oregon decided they would finally turn themselves in.
Bundy, who is the father of the jailed leader of the Oregon stand-off, Ammon Bundy, was arrested on Wednesday when he arrived at Portland International Airport on his way to the wildlife refuge to support the militants, according to the Oregonian newspaper.
The 74-year-old — whose 2014 stand-off over grazing rights ended with federal agents backing down in the face of about 1,000 armed militiamen — faces conspiracy and weapons charges, the paper reported.
Meanwhile, a panicked discussion between the remaining four occupiers and some of their supporters was taking place as federal agents closed in on their hideout at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon. The conversation was broadcast live online, via an independent Internet broadcast, "Revolution Radio," that is known to be sympathetic to the militia.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said that no shots had been fired and that negotiations were continuing to end the 41-day standoff over federal land control in the western United States. The FBI said the latest confrontation began after one of the protesters was seen riding an all-terrain vehicle outside the encampment.
The militants said FBI agents had moved to within 50 yards of the occupiers' position in the compound, and one reported seeing FBI snipers on a nearby hillside with high-beam vehicle lights trained on the compound.
The FBI said its agents moved to contain the remaining four holdouts on Wednesday evening after one of the occupiers drove the vehicle outside the barricades previously set up by the self-styled militia members.
FBI agents attempted to approach the driver, and he sped away back to the compound, after which federal agents "moved to contain the remaining occupiers by placing agents at barricades both immediately ahead of and behind" their encampment, the Bureau said.
"If they tear gas us, it's the same as firing on us," said one of the occupiers, who identified herself as Sandy Anderson. "Don't come in. Don't do it."
She later reported that the agents were trying to coax the protesters out of hiding, but said they refused to leave without their weapons. "They're threatening us. They're getting closer," she said. "I pray that there's a revolution if we die here tonight."
The broadcast was frequently interrupted by the sounds of the protesters shouting and law enforcement officers calling out to them by bullhorn. Nevada state assemblywoman Michele Fiore, was there as a witness to make sure the denouement happened peacefully, repeatedly tried to calm the occupiers by leading them in prayers over the phone.
The conversation culminated late Wednesday with the occupiers deciding they would leave the refuge on Thursday morning as long as Fiore was present.
Fiore, a Republican supporter of the protesters, said she was in Portland waiting for an FBI escort to Malheur, roughly 300 miles to the southeast. "I need you guys alive," she told them.
Sean Anderson, Sandy's husband, said late Wednesday he had spoken with the FBI and that he and his companions would hand themselves over at a nearby FBI checkpoint at 8am on Thursday, reported the Associated Press.
"We're not surrendering, we're turning ourselves in. It's going against everything we believe in," he told Fiore.
The four remaining protesters were indicted last week along with 12 others previously arrested on charges of conspiring to impede federal officers during the occupation.
The takeover at Malheur, which began on January 2, was sparked by the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal property in the vicinity of the refuge.
The occupation, led by Idaho rancher Ammon, also was directed as a protest against federal control over millions of acres public land in the western United States.
Ammon and 10 others were arrested in January, most of them during a confrontation with the FBI and state police on a snow-covered roadside during which a spokesman for the group, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was shot dead. A 12th member of the group turned himself in to police in Arizona.
Until Wednesday, FBI and police had largely kept their distance from the buildings occupied by the militants, sealing off access to the refuge headquarters with roadblocks.
"However, we reached a point where it became necessary to take action" to ensure everyone's safety, Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said in a statement.
The fate of Bundy and other members of the group who remain in custody has been clouded by the four holdouts, who joined the protest after it started but have so far refused to leave. A judge has cited the continuing standoff as a major obstacle to the release of at least some of those who remain jailed on federal charges.
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