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Militia Leader and Two Others Surrender Near Oregon Wildlife Refuge

The militiamen turned themselves in to authorities hours after Ammon Bundy, the original leader of the group, urged supporters to go home.

by Reuters and VICE News
Jan 28 2016, 4:27pm

Photo by Keith Ridler/AP

Authorities have arrested three more members of a militia that has occupied a federal wildlife reserve for four weeks, including a man who appeared to take the group's helm Wednesday.

Jason Patrick, 43, assumed a leadership role after the arrests of the militia's leadership and fatal shooting of its spokesman Tuesday night. But he was taken into custody after turning himself in at around 8:40pm Wednesday night at a roadside checkpoint near Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Two other militia members, Duane Leo Ehmer, 45, and Dylan Wade Anderson, 34, also surrendered to police earlier that afternoon, according to the FBI and Oregon State Police. The moves came just hours after one of the group's original leaders, Ammon Bundy, told remaining occupiers to go home to their families. Earlier in the day, Patrick had estimated around five or six militamen remained holed up in the compound.

Related: 'Come Get Some': Militia Prepares for Battle as Feds Surround Oregon Wildlife Refuge

Bundy, who was taken into custody on Tuesday along Highway 395 with several members of his group during a police traffic stop, north of the nature reserve in southeast Oregon, appeared in court for the first time in Portland on Wednesday. After the hearing, Bundy's attorney, Mike Arnold, read a statement on behalf of his client urging federal authorities to let his comrades leave the compound without being prosecuted.

"Please stand down. Go home and hug your families," the statement read. "This fight is now in the courts."

Federal and state authorities also urged the armed militiamen to quit their protest, saying they were free to leave the refuge.

"Let me be clear: It is the actions and choices of the armed occupiers of the refuge that have led us to where we are today," Greg Bretzing, a special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Portland, said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "They had ample opportunity to leave the refuge peacefully and as the FBI and our partners have clearly demonstrated, actions are not without consequences."

At the same news conference, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, his voice breaking, said, "I'm disappointed that a traffic stop yesterday that was supposed to bring peaceful resolution to this ended badly. Multiple law enforcement agencies put a lot of work into putting together the best tactical plan they could, to take these guys down peacefully."

Few details have confirmed the chain of events that led to the fatal shooting Tuesday night. One occupier, Mark McConnell, who was driving with the convoy of leaders at the time of the highway confrontation, posted a video to Facebook describing the highway incident.

McConnell claims the LaVoy Finicum, the group's spokesman, fled in his truck after encountering a roadblock that consisted of several heavy-duty police vehicles. The brief chase that ensued ended when Finicum's truck met a second roadblock and became stuck in a snowbank. After Finicum exited the diesel truck, he reportedly charged at law enforcement, which is when he was shot, McConnell explained.

"He charged at the law enforcement… he went after them, he charged 'em," McConnell said of Finicum.

Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan Bundy, 43, who was shot in the arm during the encounter, were both arrested, along with militia leaders Brian Cavalier, 44; Shawna Cox, 59, and Ryan Payne, 32. The FBI said that three others were also arrested separately in connection with the occupation.

Those arrested face federal felony charges of conspiracy to use force and intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said. The charge carries a maximum six-year prison sentence and fines, and has in the past been used on animal rights activists and anti-war demonstrators. 

The Malheur takeover, which started January 2 with at least a dozen armed men, 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. Protesters say they are defending the Constitution. Bundy's father, Cliven, was a key figure in a 2014 armed standoff with federal officials over unpaid grazing fees in Nevada.

Authorities have now set up roadblocks at the perimeter of the wildlife compound, which is comprised of shops, office buildings, a bunkhouse, and a museum. FBI agents at the roadblocks are reportedly armed with assault rifles and are wearing body armor and helmets.

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