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FBI Negotiates as Defiant Holdouts in Oregon Militia Standoff Demand Immunity

The remaining militiamen occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon have said they will only surrender if they receive a guarantee that they will not be arrested.
Des agents du FBI devant l'aéroport municipal de Burns, Oregon. (Photo par Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

The four remaining militiamen occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon are negotiating with the FBI, and have said publicly that they will only surrender if they receive a guarantee that they will not be arrested.

"If Obama can release five terrorists, ISIS-supporting terrorists, for one treasonous prisoner, then of course any deal is possible," one militiamen said in YouTube livestream broadcast from the wildlife refuge on Saturday, apparently referring to the swap of Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay that freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from five years of militant captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2014.


Tensions in the standoff remain high four days after Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, a spokesman for the armed group that seized buildings at the refuge in early January, was killed in an operation that led to the arrests of occupation leader Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy, and four others as they traveled on a nearby highway. The FBI asserts that Finicum reached for his gun during the incident, and released video footage of the encounter that shows Finicum fleeing police in a pickup truck, swerving into a snowbank to avoid a roadblock, and exiting his vehicle before being shot.

Related: Witness and Family of Slain Oregon Militia Spokesman Dispute FBI's Account of Shooting

Ammon Bundy has issued messages through his attorney urging those remaining at the refuge to stand down, saying they would continue to fight through the courts.

In the Saturday livestream, titled "Response to Ammon Bundy," an unidentified militiamen could be heard talking as the camera focused on a small campfire. He referenced Finicum's death and said "the fight is going to keep going."

"A lot of people feel like LaVoy — he can't speak here now — but a lot of people feel like he was a man that was a coward or anything, and he stood his ground, and so let's not let his death be in vain, let's not let this event be trampled over," the militiaman said, adding that the idea of the occupation was that "everybody was supposed to hold their ground."


"The objective was to see if the cops would really come and just kill everybody," he said. "If the feds knew that everybody was armed, and they want a peaceful resolution as they admit, they wouldn't ever come in charging with their guns blazing."

In taking over the refuge, protesters criticized federal control of vast tracts of land in a flare-up of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres in the West.

"Negotiations are ongoing," FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele told Reuters, declining to give details on the talks or comment on the video.

The remaining militiamen also posted another 30-minute video from the wildlife refuge on Friday. In that clip, the occupiers expressed their mistrust of the government and said they are reluctant to leave the refuge.

Related: Here's How a Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Thinks the Oregon Standoff Will End

"We're not the criminals, they are," militiaman Sean Anderson said in the video. "We came here with our First Amendment right to peaceful protest, and we used our Second Amendment rights to defend ourselves… If we're following the constitution, that's the law. If we don't stand up here to the end, why did we come here in the first place?"

Later in the video, Anderson compared the increased presence of federal authorities in the nearby city of Burns to Germany under the rule of Nazis.

"The word is that Burns is on lockdown," he said. "They're going house to house to find who might have slipped out of here. It's like Nazi Germany, they're pulling cars over."


He also said he had no plans to surrender if it involved him being arrested.

"For this to work out the way they want it, I have to turn myself in, which means I submit to something i don't agree with, and it's not lawful," he said.

Supporters of the militiamen staged a rally in Burns on Saturday night. About 30 pick-up trucks and other vehicles honked horns and waved flags, including the Confederate flag and the Gadsden flag, an adopted symbol of the Libertarian movement that bears a a coiled rattlesnake the message "Don't tread on me." Passing the courthouse, the protesters yelled "murderer," and "FBI go home."

Burns Mayor Craig LaFollette said the protesters were mostly outsiders who had disrupted the community, adding, "We don't want them here." An American Indian tribe, the Burns Paiute tribe, who are caretakers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that the militia group has occupied, have said the group is not welcome.

"The protesters have no right to this land. It belongs to the native people who live here," tribal leader Charlotte Rodrique told reporters at a press conference outside the cultural center near the refuge in early January.

Related: Indigenous People Say Oregon's 'Domestic Terrorists' Are Just Fighting Over Native Land

Earlier this week, Clint Van Zandt, a former chief hostage negotiator for the FBI, told VICE News that he believes authorities should exercise patience and resist the temptation to storm the refuge.


"There's no need for boots and bullets," he said. "They will be expecting that, and you don't want to provoke somebody with a hair trigger."

"The authorities will continue to encircle the compound completely," Van Zandt said in the event that the group refuses to back down, suggesting that the government might eventually starve out those remaining. "There will be no food, the media will die down — over time it's going to get less and less advantageous for them to stay in there."

Reuters contributed to this report

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Watch the VICE News documentary The Oregon Standoff: A Community Divided