A day after several leaders of the anti-government militia that has been occupying a wildlife refuge in rural Oregon were arrested and the group's spokesman shot dead by police, the militiamen still inside the facility say they are preparing for battle with the federal authorities who now have them surrounded.
During a livestream from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday morning, an armed occupier dressed in fatigues is seen holding a rifle. He spoke directly into the camera, seemingly addressing authorities in the aftermath of the arrests and the shooting that occurred on a highway close to the refuge on Tuesday night.
"You want some militiamen? Come get some," the man said, standing in front of what appeared to be a piece of heavy-duty excavating equipment. "It's what you been training for, preparing for."
"Media's been waiting for a bloodbath this whole time we've been here," he said at another point. "Now there's going to be one."
According to militiaman Jason Patrick, at least five or six people remain at the nature preserve, which has now been occupied for nearly four weeks as part of a fierce land dispute with the federal government. Patrick, who has assumed a leadership role after the arrests of the original commanders on Tuesday, said they would remain at the wildlife refuge until there was a "redress of grievances" from the federal government.
Patrick earlier told media with apparent irony to "prepare for the peaceful resolution," and militia members seen in the live feed seemed to further dim hopes of a nonviolent solution.
At one point in the live feed, a man spoke on a phone with a person he identified as his mother and offered her reassurance.
"If I die, I died for my country, I died a free man," he said. "That's how I want to die."
The man added that his group had "food and everything for the long haul."
The livestream, broadcast by members of the occupation, has provided insights into the daily lives of the militiamen. In a series of clips posted to YouTube under an account called DefendYourBase, members have posted stream-of-consciousness ramblings about their activities and the rationale for their actions.
In one clip, militia leader Ammon Bundy, who was arrested Tuesday night, discussed a phone call he had with the FBI. In another posted on Monday, Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, 55, a de facto militia spokesman who was killed in the confrontation last night with police, declared that the occupiers are "not leaving soon."
"We're not leaving, we're staying," said Finicum, who was dressed in a denim jacket and cowboy hat,. "These buildings do not ever return to the federal government."
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 Finicum fled in his diesel 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.
At a news conference in Burns, Oregon, on Wednesday, Greg Bretzing, the FBI special agent in charge of the agency's Portland office, said that the remaining occupiers were "free to leave" the refuge and would be identified at checkpoints manned by law enforcement.
"Let me be clear: It is the actions and choices of the armed occupiers of the refuge that have lead us to where we are today," Bretzing said.
Bretzing said he could not give details of the traffic stop and shooting incident because they are under investigation.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward also did not give details but, with 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…
"If it was as simple as just waiting out some folks down there to get out of some buildings, we could have waited a lot longer," Ward continued. "But this has been tearing our community apart. It's time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on. There doesn't have to be bloodshed in our community."
Those arrested face federal felony charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said. Local news station KATU-TV reported that the detained occupiers were expected to make an initial court appearance on Wednesday afternoon.
Amid concerns that Finicum's killing could escalate violence, the Pacific Patriots Network, Oath Keepers and the Idaho III% — all self-styled militia groups sympathetic to the occupiers — said in a joint statement they were issuing an immediate "standby" order to followers.
"During this time, cooler heads must prevail," the statement said. "We do not wish to inflame the current situation and will engage in open dialogue until all of the facts have been gathered."
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 wearing body armor and helmets.
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.
The arrests on Tuesday angered anti-government protesters across the country, said Mike Vanderboegh, a gun-rights activist active in self-proclaimed militia circles.
"It's all I can do to keep people from going and shooting feds right now," he told Reuters.
Reuters contributed to this report
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