Occupied refuge 'belongs to the people', Oregon milita leader says

PORTLAND, Ore. - The leader of an armed group that took over an Oregon wildlife preserve to protest federal land policies is remaining defiant behind bars.

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While Ammon Bundy on Tuesday again urged four holdouts at the refuge to leave, he said local residents should control the federally owned property and U.S. officials do not belong there.

Bundy said the FBI and Oregon State Police surrounding Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are leading an “armed occupation,” words typically reserved for the ranchers and others that launched the standoff on Jan. 2. He said the refuge “belongs to the people,” according to a statement read by his attorney.

“I am requesting that the remaining protesters go home now so their lives are not taken,” Bundy's statement said.

He is among 11 people arrested in connection with the standoff, whose adherents have called federal land restrictions burdensome and demanded the government turn over public lands to local control. Many were taken into custody during a traffic stop last week that left one occupier dead.

All face a felony conspiracy charge of using intimidation to prevent federal employees from their work. Bundy will stay behind bars while his attorneys build their case that the standoff was intended as a “peaceful protest and civil disobedience.” A federal judge has allowed a couple of others to go free pending trial.

Another court hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the handful of remaining occupiers offered no signs they are ready to leave. They gave an interview Monday on an online talk show on a YouTube channel called Revolution Radio.

“We're still here,” said David Fry, adding that the four hope sympathizers will come out to back them up. “We need the American people to get the courage to stand up.”

Bundy pleaded for them to go home and aligned with his father, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, on demanding federal and state authorities clear out of the area.

The elder Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights, sent a certified letter to the local sheriff Monday, saying the refuge should be placed under local control.

Unlike his son, Cliven Bundy has not called for the last occupiers to leave.

The Oregonian reported the Rev. Franklin Graham had spoken with the remaining occupiers.

Graham spokesman Todd Shearer told the newspaper that the religious leader had communicated by phone with the four occupiers and federal officials but Graham had “no comment” beyond that.

The last four occupiers had asked Graham to help them negotiate their departure. They have said they want assurances they won't be arrested.

Federal prosecutors are building a case against Ammon Bundy and his followers to show that the occupation was a threat to residents and federal employees. Prosecutors say the group, once numbering a couple dozen, was ready to use violence to hold on to the refuge.

The standoff also has created divisions among residents that will take time to heal. Many locals want the occupation to end and are eager to get on with their lives. But others sympathize with Bundy's complaints, which are part of a long-running dispute over federal management of public lands in the West.

Some have rallied in support and opposition to the standoff, the latter often citing the death of an Arizona rancher by police. Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed Jan. 26 during a confrontation with FBI agents and Oregon State Police on a remote road.

Federal authorities have released aerial video and said Finicum was going for a gun in his jacket pocket. Bundy's relatives say the shooting was not justified.


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