The FBI on Wednesday evening surrounded the four remaining people occupying Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
According to an FBI statement, at about 4:30pm local time one of the occupiers rode an ATV outside of the barricades set up around the refuge. When agents began to approach the rider, he "returned to the encampment at a high rate of speed." The FBI then stationed agents at the barricades around the encampment to contain the occupiers.
"We reached a point where it became necessary to take action in a way that best ensured the safety of those on the refuge, the law enforcement officers who are on scene, and the people of Harney County who live and work in this area," said Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon.
The Oregonian reported that FBI tactical teams had secretly moved into buildings on the refuge overnight, where they remained Wednesday in the lead-up to the confrontation.
Gavin Seim, a friend of occupier David Fry, livestreamed an open phone line with the occupiers on YouTube [listen below]. He also conferenced in Republican Nevada assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a supporter of the occupiers who was at Portland International Airport — a six-hour drive away — and attempting to get to the refuge and act as a negotiator.
The open phone line with the occupiers.
"I don't want any bad things to happen, because if bad things happen, what am I going to fight for?" Fiore asked the occupiers as she urged them to be cautious. She attempted repeatedly to convince them to surrender once she arrives. "I can't have you dying because I never got to hug you," she later added.
The occupiers, however, repeatedly said that they believe the FBI is preparing to storm the encampment, expressing both their certainty that the FBI is intent on killing them and their determination to respond to aggression.
"If they teargas us, that's the same as if they fire on us," one of the occupiers said. "Then it's over with."
Fiore got into a car with Ammon Bundy's attorney, Mike Arnold, to drive to the refuge at about 7:15pm. One occupier said Reverend Franklin Graham was set to arrive at 7am Thursday to walk the group out; Seim led the group in prayer periodically during the livestream.
In addition to Fry, Sean Anderson, Sandra Lynn Pfeifer Anderson, and Jeff Wayne Banta are occupying the refuge. Wednesday was the 40th day of the Malheur takeover, which started on January 2 with at least a dozen armed men. It was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres of land in the West.
The occupation was originally led by Ammon Bundy, but Bundy and 10 others were arrested last month, most of them during a confrontation with the FBI and state police on a snow-covered roadside where a spokesman for the group, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was shot dead. A twelfth member of the group turned himself in to police in Arizona.
The four protesters still at the refuge were indicted last week along with 12 others previously arrested on charges of conspiring to impede federal officers during the monthlong armed standoff at the compound.
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Reuters contributed to this story.
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