Around 40 people, including women and children, are still said to be occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and are refusing to budge after several leaders of the armed occupation were arrested and one fatally shot at a highway roadblock near the refuge on Tuesday night.
Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher and de facto spokesman for the occupiers, was killed after authorities confronted members of the group as they traveled to a meeting in the city of John Day, Oregon, witnesses said. Ammon Bundy, one of the original leaders of the occupation, was arrested along with four other senior members after a confrontation at around 4:25pm local time, according to the FBI. Bundy's brother, Ryan Bundy, 43, also sustained a minor gunshot wound during the encounter before he was taken into custody, local media reported. A total of seven people involved in the occupation have now been arrested.
Despite orders from the FBI for remaining militia members to vacate Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, there are no signs that the months long occupation is abating. According to an estimate from The Oregonian newspaper, approximately 40 militia members and their families are still at the compound, which includes shops, office buildings, a bunkhouse, and a museum. Only a few people left the refuge after the incident on Tuesday night.
One of the remaining occupiers, Jason Patrick, said they would remain at the wildlife refuge until there was a "redress of grievances" from the federal government.
"I've heard 'peaceful resolution' for weeks now and now there's a cowboy who is my friend who is dead — so prepare for the peaceful resolution," he said.
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 said he was briefly taken into custody and questioned for two hours, but was released because authorities "didn't have anything on me."
In the video, McConnell said that 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.
About 90 minutes after the incident, Oregon State Police arrested a sixth person in Burns, Oregon. A short time later, Pete Santilli, a self-styled journalist who was livestreaming events at the refuge, was also taken into custody and charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers, according to the FBI.
Authorities have now reportedly set up a roadblock at the main route leading to the refuge. Police rigs, passenger cars, and armored trucks are among a convoy of law enforcement vehicles currently moving in the area, The Oregonian reported.
The Bundy brothers and other leaders who were arrested are facing federal charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties. The charge carries a maximum six-year prison sentence and fines, and has in the past been used on animal rights activists, anti-war demonstrators, and extremists.
In an interview on Monday with The Oregonian, Finicum spoke presciently about the possibility of a violent encounter with federal agents. He said federal authorities had increased the manpower around the refuge and stepped up airplane and drone surveillance of the area. There also was a change of attitude, he said.
"We used to could walk up to them and talk with the FBI agents in a friendly manner… but the tenor has changed," Finicum said. "They have become more hardened. When they step out of their vehicles now they're stepping out with their rifles and they're not willing to engage in just friendly dialogue…
"Whether this is just saber rattling to intimidate or whether they actually mean it, we don't know… They do not want to let go of this," he said. "They do not intend on losing here. And we do not intend on giving it back to them."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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