The self-styled militias from around the Pacific Northwest were asked to leave, as those occupying the wildlife refuge did not want to inflame the situation even further. The leader of the occupation movement, Ammon Bundy, had not asked the armed men to come.
“This was the last thing in the world they wanted to see happen,” Todd MacFarlane, a Utah lawyer who is acting as a mediator, told the Oregonian, as cited by AP.
He added that Bundy, who has his own group of around two dozen men, had “tried to put out the word: ‘We don’t need you.’”
The members of Bundy’s group, who call themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, held a cordial meeting with the FBI, in which both sides conveyed what they wanted in a calm manner. During the discussion, the occupation movement mentioned to the Feds that they didn’t want the direct support of the regional militia groups.
Regional militias, such as Pacific Patriots Network, Oath Keepers and III%, had pledged to lend their support to Bundy. They arrived in a convoy of around 18 vehicles at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, armed with rifles and dressed in military fatigues.
Their leader, Brandon Curtiss, said the group had arrived to “de-escalate” the situation by providing security for those inside and outside the compound.
Bundy’s occupation movement took over the refuge on January 2, to protest the re-sentencing of two Oregonian ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond.
The two men were found guilty of arson after starting a fire to clear their property that had spread to federal lands. Dwight, 73, originally received a sentence of three months in prison, while Steve spent a year and a day in prison. However, federal prosecutors appealed their sentences and requested they receive a minimum of five years. The Hammonds turned themselves in on Monday.
Citizens for Constitutional Freedom is demanding the federal government relinquish its claim on about three-quarters of the land in the county, and then “return” it to local residents. However, those same locals are unhappy with the militia presence. At a Harney County community meeting on Wednesday night, residents cheered when Ward called on the outsiders to go home.
The federal government hadn’t stolen the land from the locals, however. It was taken from the indigenous people in what was to become Harney County nearly two centuries ago.
“The protesters have no right to this land. It belongs to the native people who live here,” Charlotte Rodrique, chair of the Paiute tribe in Burns, said on Wednesday in front of the tribe’s cultural center. The tribe accused the Bundy-led group of “desecrating one of our sacred sites.”
Bundy has repeatedly rejected calls from the authorities to leave the refuge. The standoff is seeing Bundy pitting himself against Harney County Sheriff David Ward, who is leading federal efforts to end the occupation peacefully. Although Bundy is not from Oregon, he says he speaks for the interests of the local Harney County community. However, Ward says local residents want him to leave.
Bundy met briefly with Sheriff Ward on Thursday, but his offer of safe passage out of the state of Oregon as a way to end the standoff was rejected.
However, on Friday, Bundy said: “We will take that offer, but not yet and we will go out of this county and out of this state as free men.”