Oregon standoff: US and state officials in Oregon on Wednesday set up checkpoints around Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where an armed group pledged to prolong its standoff with the government a day after one protester was killed and eight others were arrested.
Authorities said the new security involves a series of checkpoints along key routes into and out of the refuge, and was made out of an “abundance of caution” to protect the public and law enforcement. Only ranchers who own property in the area will be allowed in and anyone coming out of the refuge will have to show identity and have their vehicle searched.
The month-long occupation of the wildlife reserve over federal control of large tracts of the country turned violent on Tuesday after officers stopped a car carrying protest leader Ammon Bundy and others near the refuge. Activists said Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, was killed.
There were no details on what set off the shooting. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said authorities would hold a news conference on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PST (1730 GMT) in Burns, a town near the refuge.
Amid concerns that Finicum’s killing could escalate violence, the militia groups Pacific Patriots Network, Oathkeepers and the Idaho III% said in a joint statement they were issuing an immediate “stand by” order.
“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.”
Anti-militia sentiment also lit up social media, making #OregonStandoff among the top trending hashtags.
One of the remaining occupiers at the reserve, Jason Patrick, told Reuters by phone they would stay until the “redress of grievances.”
“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,” Patrick said.
The Malheur takeover, which started Jan. 2, was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres in the West.
Protesters say they are defending the Constitution. Bundy’s father, Cliven, was a key figure in a 2014 armed standoff over unpaid grazing fees in Nevada.
Federal officials said Tuesday they had probable cause to arrest Finicum, who told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be detained.
In an interview on Monday with the Oregonian newspaper, Finicum said federal authorities had increased manpower around the refuge and stepped up their airplane and drone surveillance. 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. They do not intend on losing here. And we do not intend on giving it back to them.”
Patrick, who is still in the refuge, likened Finicum’s death to that of Tamir Rice, an unarmed 12-year-old black youth fatally shot by Cleveland police outside a recreation center in 2014. The officers were not charged.
“The government can kill who they want for whatever reason they want with impunity,” Patrick said.
He was asked how the occupiers would respond to authorities entering the refuge but did not indicate a clear plan.
“I don’t know what to tell you but if somebody saying ‘peaceful resolution’ comes in and points guns at me …,” Patrick said before trailing off.
Many Twitter users expressed satisfaction about the arrests. David Plotnik (@davidkippy) tweeted: “Finally, the #Bundy militia get what they deserve. They cannot set a good example for all the radical #republicans out there. #democrats.”