A day after the leaders of an armed anti-government group were arrested, authorities on Wednesday urged a handful of remaining activists to abandon the Oregon wildlife refuge they have occupied for more than three weeks, saying it was “time to move on.”
According to Tony Hernandez, a breaking news reporter for The Oregonian, Ammon Bundy told his remaining followers to “stand down” and go home as well.
Bundy via his attorney: “Please stand down” and go home. That’s his message to remaining people at refuge. #Oregonstandoff
— Tony Hernandez (@tonyhreports) January 27, 2016
Meanwhile, details began to emerge about the confrontation that occurred on a remote highway between the small towns of Burns and John Day. Followers of Ammon Bundy gave conflicting accounts of how one of the men in the two-vehicle convoy was killed during a traffic stop.
One of Bundy’s followers said Robert Finicum charged at FBI agents, who then shot him. A member of the Bundy family said Finicum did nothing to provoke the agents.
There was no immediate way to confirm either account. Authorities refused to release any details about the encounter or even to verify that it was Finicum who was killed. It was unclear if Finicum or the others were armed, or if they exchanged gunfire with officers.
Also Wednesday, a federal judge in Portland unsealed a criminal complaint that said the armed group had explosives and night-vision goggles and that they were prepared to fight at the refuge or in the nearby town of Burns.
Someone told authorities about the equipment on Jan. 2, when the group took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, according to the document. It was not clear if explosives were found or if concern about them was the reason agents moved to make the arrests.
With group leaders in jail, federal agents surrounded the refuge where the remnants of Bundy’s group refused to give up on the occupation that began Jan. 2.
Although roadblocks were in place around the nature preserve, FBI agent Greg Bretzing told reporters that the people could leave through checkpoints “where they will be identified.”
He did not say whether any of them face arrest. He said negotiators were available to talk if they have “questions or concerns.”
Jason Patrick, a former roofer from Georgia, found himself the new leader of the dwindling group of refuge occupiers last night, the Oregonian reported. Patrick said people met Tuesday night to decide whether to abandon the refuge or continue the occupation.
“The majority vote was to stay,” Patrick said.
A confrontation Tuesday afternoon on a remote road north of Burns resulted in the arrest of Ammon Bundy and four others. Two other occupiers were arrested Tuesday in Burns and another in Arizona.
Details were sketchy about what happened when FBI agents and Oregon state troopers stopped Bundy and others in his group as they travelled to a planned meeting with nearby residents.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said Wednesday that he was disappointed to see the traffic stop “that was supposed to bring a peaceful resolution to this ended badly,” with the one death.
But he defended the operation, saying multiple law-enforcement agencies put together “the best tactical plan they could.”
Bundy followers took to social media to offer conflicting accounts of Finicum’s final moments.
In a video posted to Facebook, Mike McConnell said he was driving the vehicle carrying Ammon Bundy and another occupier, Brian Cavalier. He said Finicum was driving a truck and with him were Ryan Bundy — Ammon’s brother — as well as three others.
He said the convoy was driving through a forest when they were stopped by agents in heavy-duty trucks. He said agents first pulled him out of the vehicle, followed by Ammon Bundy and Cavalier.
When agents approached the truck driven by Filicum, he drove off with officers in pursuit. McConnell said he did not see what happened next, but heard from others who were in that vehicle that they encountered a roadblock.
The truck got stuck in a snowbank, and Finicum got out and “charged them. He went after them,” McConnell said.
Relatives of Ammon Bundy offered similar accounts, but they claimed Finicum did nothing to provoke FBI agents.
Briana Bundy, a sister of Ammon Bundy, said he called his wife after his arrest. He said the group was stopped by state and federal officers.
She said people in the two vehicles complied with instructions to get out with their hands up.
“LaVoy shouted, ‘Don’t shoot. We’re unarmed,'” Briana Bundy said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They began to fire on them. Ammon said it happened real fast.”
“Ammon said, ‘They murdered him in cold blood. We did everything they asked, and they murdered him. We complied with their demands,'” she said.
McConnell had a different perspective.
“Any time someone takes off with a vehicle away from law enforcement after they have exercised a stop, it’s typically considered an act of aggression, and foolish,” he said in the Facebook video.
McConnell said he was questioned by authorities, and he believes he was not charged because he was not considered a leader of the group.
Briana Bundy confirmed that McConnell was in the convoy on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Harney County Sheriff Ward said it will take a while for the area to heal.
The occupation “has been tearing our community apart. It’s time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on,” Ward said. “There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community.”
The Bundys are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights.
The group, which has included people from as far away as Michigan, calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. It came to the frozen high desert of eastern Oregon to decry what it calls onerous federal land restrictions and to object to the prison sentences of two local ranchers convicted of setting fires.