Update at 2 p.m.: Armed members of the Pacific Patriot Network are leaving the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Joseph Rice, a spokesman for the network, told reporters that his group presented occupation leader Ammon Bundy and other protesters with “articles of resolution.”
He didn’t say what was in the document, but noted that his group wants to move the sides to an end to the standoff.
Then network members got into most of the cars and trucks they’d parked nearby and started heading out of the reserve.
Rice didn’t address whether his group would return, saying only: “We are moving on to present them (the articles of resolution) to other government agencies.”
The network is maintaining a neutral stance in the dispute, he said.
Update at 1:45 p.m.: Todd MacFarlane, a Utah lawyer acting as a mediator, said occupation leader Ammon Bundy doesn’t want the armed visitors there.
Bundy’s message: “We don’t need that. We don’t want it and we’re asking you to leave,” MacFarlane told reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
MacFarlane said he had just met with Bundy and other leaders of the occupation.
They’re “alarmed” by the arrival of Pacific Patriot Network members, some carrying rifles, and concerned about the perception they convey.
“This was the last thing in the world they wanted to see happen,” MacFarlane said.
Bundy didn’t request the presence of the network, he said, and has “tried to put out the word: ‘We don’t need you.'”
BURNS — A week into their standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Ammon Bundy and his band of militants have given the place a new name and acquired a rifle-wielding “security detail.”
Members of the Pacific Patriot Network, a consortium of several groups from Oregon, Washington and Idaho, arrived mid-morning, carrying rifles and sidearms and clad in military attire and bulletproof vests.
Their leader, Brandon Curtiss, said the group came to “de-escalate” the situation by providing security for those inside and outside the compound. About a half-dozen rifles were visible among the two dozen new arrivals. They aren’t staying in the compound, Curtiss said, but are patrolling the perimeter of the reserve.
The ornate sign that used to greet visitors with “Welcome To Your National Wildlife Refuge” now advertises the headquarters of the “Harney County Resource Center” in white block letters over a blue background.
The new name gives credence to the protesters’ claim that the refuge and all on-site buildings, equipment and supplies now belong to the people of Harney County. It also hints at their intent to stay here for the long haul.
LaVoy Finicum, one of the group’s most vocal members, said the Bundy crew appreciates the Pacific Patriot Network’s help, but “we want the long guns put away.” Bundy didn’t appear at the daily morning news conference.
Finicum said the refuge occupiers are now taking up the cause of other area ranchers who have complaints against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. He wouldn’t name the ranchers, but said the militants plan to dismantle a fence that keeps one rancher’s cattle off some federal land.
It’s all part of an increasingly bizarre scene at the bird sanctuary 30 miles south of the county’s largest town, where a standoff that has often resembled a friendly bonfire party is beginning to look more like an armed occupation.
Bundy, an Arizona businessman and son of controversial Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, led a group of militant protesters last Saturday in a sudden takeover of the refuge. The group’s leaders say they plan to stay until local rancher Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, are released from prison and the 187,000-acre refuge is divvied up among area residents to be used for livestock grazing and logging.
A federal court judge ordered the Hammonds back to prison to finish out five-year arson sentences for setting fires that damaged federal land. They reported Monday to a prison in California after earlier serving lighter sentences in the case.
Public officials from the Burns mayor to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown have ordered the militants to pack up and leave, but Bundy has made it clear he has no immediate plans to comply.
So far, law enforcement officers have made no attempt to force him out, although Bundy and the group have a standing offer from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward to avoid arrest if they leave peacefully. It’s unclear whether that offer comes with a deadline.
Other than the presence of the new visitors, the refuge headquarters remained much the same as it has throughout the week: Power remains on in the buildings, militants and local residents can travel back and forth to town freely and no roadblocks exist on the way to the refuge.
Meanwhile, the new sign at the refuge seems to indicate that the militants are digging their heels in deeper. The sign comes with a fresh moniker for the group members, who now call themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. Their ranks appear to have grown beyond the core 20 to 25 protesters, but it’s impossible to say by how many because of all the comings and goings.
The Pacific Patriot Network members say they don’t support the refuge takeover, but agree with Bundy’s crusade against federal land managers.
On Saturday morning, Curtiss said he intends to meet with standoff organizers as well as local public officials and law enforcement to come to a “peaceful resolution.”
“We are not the militia, and we are not a militia,” he said, adding that he “they’re here for everybody’s safety, on both sides.”
Law enforcement authorities including the FBI and sheriff’s deputies from across the state have converted the Burns school district headquarters into a makeshift command post with around-the-clock security. However, they have no evident presence in or around the refuge.
On Saturday, militants openly drove government-owned vehicles and heavy equipment around the compound, proclaiming that the trucks and backhoes now belong to the local community. At the same time, they limited access to the refuge buildings, arguing that letting reporters and photographers inside would pose a safety hazard.
Meanwhile, members of the Pacific Patriot Network guarded the refuge entrance with guns in their hands and masks concealing their faces.
“No comment,” one of them responded when asked what kind of gun he was carrying.
– Kelly House