Patient strategy pays off for FBI in ending Oregon standoff

In this file photo, Jon Ritzheimer, of Arizona, a member of the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, adjusts a sign. Burns, Oregon, Jan. 5, 2016 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

BURNS, Ore. (AP) — The last four armed occupiers of an Oregon wildlife refuge shouted, argued and raved for all the world to hear. But in the end, they surrendered without a shot being fired, leaving behind a vandalized federal property that authorities will spend weeks combing for evidence, explosives and damage before it can reopen to the public.

From left, Nevada Assemblyman John Moore, Idaho Rep. Heather Scott and Idaho Rep. Judy Boyle speak to reporters outside the Malheur Wildlife Refuge during the standoff. The end of a nearly six-week-long standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge played out live on the internet, with tens of thousands of people listening as supporters encouraged the last armed occupiers to surrender. The holdouts surrendered Thursday, having refused to leave the refuge after the group's leaders were arrested last month. Burns, Oregon, Feb. 11, 2016 | Photo by Rebecca Boone(AP), St. George News
L-R: Nevada Assemblyman John Moore, Idaho Rep. Heather Scott and Idaho Rep. Judy Boyle speak to reporters outside the Malheur Wildlife Refuge during the standoff. The end of a nearly six-week-long standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge played out live on the internet, with tens of thousands of people listening as supporters encouraged the last armed occupiers to surrender. The holdouts surrendered Thursday, having refused to leave the refuge after the group’s leaders were arrested last month. Burns, Oregon, Feb. 11, 2016 | Photo by Rebecca Boone (AP), St. George News

The peaceful resolution to the standoff, which had lasted 41 days and resulted in one death, signaled a victory for the FBI’s patient, “low burn” approach to the trespassers and reflected lessons federal agents have learned since bloody standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in the 1990s.

“This was beautifully executed,” said Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor at California State University, San Bernardino. “This siege and the way it was handled will go down in law enforcement textbooks.”

The holdouts were the last remnants of a larger group that seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2, demanding the U.S. turn over the land to locals and release two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires, in a controversy that exposed simmering anger over the government’s control of vast expanses of Western land.

The group’s leaders, including Ammon Bundy, were arrested Jan. 26 during a traffic stop along the snowy highway en route to the town of John Day, where they were due to appear at a community forum. Authorities said one man, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, reached toward a pistol inside his jacket pocket, and police shot him dead.

Most of the occupiers fled the refuge. Four stayed behind, saying they feared they would be arrested if they left: 27-year-old David Fry, of Blanchester, Ohio; Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada; and married couple Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, of Riggins, Idaho.

On Wednesday night, the FBI tightened its ring around the holdouts, surrounding their encampment with armored vehicles — while also arresting one of their heroes, Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, as he arrived in Oregon to support them. The elder Bundy appeared in federal court Thursday in Portland to hear the charges against him, all of which stem from a 2014 confrontation with federal authorities at his ranch in Nevada.

Armed law enforcement officers stand near a closed highway about 4 miles outside of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Ore, after the last four occupiers of the national nature preserve surrendered on Thursday. The holdouts were the last remnants of a larger group that seized the wildlife refuge nearly six weeks ago, demanding that the government turn over the land to locals and release two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires. Burns, Oregon, Feb. 11, 2016 | Photo by Rebecca Boone(AP), St. George News
Armed law enforcement officers stand near a closed highway about 4 miles outside of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Ore, after the last four occupiers of the national nature preserve surrendered on Thursday. The holdouts were the last remnants of a larger group that seized the wildlife refuge nearly six weeks ago, demanding that the government turn over the land to locals and release two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires. Burns, Oregon, Feb. 11, 2016 | Photo by Rebecca Boone (AP), St. George News

As the standoff entered its final hours, the occupiers’ panic and their negotiation with FBI agents could be heard live online, broadcast by a sympathizer of the occupiers who established phone contact with them. Their communication with two prominent supporters, the Rev. Franklin Graham and Nevada lawmaker Michele Fiore, who traveled to the wildlife refuge to help persuade them to surrender, seemed to provide an outlet valve for the increasing pressure from federal agents, and the FBI credited the two with helping end the standoff peaceably.

The Andersons and Banta surrendered first on Thursday. Fry initially refused to join them.

“I’m making sure I’m not coming out of here alive,” he said at one point, threatening to kill himself. “Liberty or death, I take that stance.”

But after ranting for a while, he too gave up, saying he was having one more cookie and one more cigarette and asking others to join him in saying “hallelujah.”

Nearby residents were relieved.

“I just posted hallelujah on my Facebook,” said Julie Weikel, who lives next to the nature preserve. “And I think that says it all. I am so glad this is over.”

Federal authorities in six states also arrested seven other people accused of being involved in the occupation. At least 25 people have now been indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to impede employees at the wildlife refuge from performing their duties.

The refuge, a haven for many species of migratory waterfowl, will remain closed to the public for weeks, said Greg Bretzing, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland division. Bomb squads planned to sweep buildings for explosives, and Bretzing said specialists must try to determine whether the occupiers damaged any artifacts or burial grounds sacred to the Burns Paiute Tribe, with an eye toward uncovering any violations of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Protection Act and the Archeological Resources Protection Act.

Video posted online showed the occupiers operating a backhoe, exploring buildings at the site and criticizing the way tribal artifacts were stored there. The last four occupiers had been living in a rough encampment on refuge grounds.

In this file photo, rancher Cliven Bundy stands along the road near his ranch. Bundy, the father of the jailed leader of the Oregon refuge occupation, and who was the center of a standoff with federal officials in Nevada in 2014, was arrested in Portland on Wednesday, the FBI said. Bunkerville, Nevada, Jan. 27, 2016 | File Photo by John Locher (AP), St. George News
In this file photo, rancher Cliven Bundy stands along the road near his ranch. Bundy, the father of the jailed leader of the Oregon refuge occupation and the center of a standoff with federal officials in Nevada in 2014, was arrested in Portland on Wednesday, the FBI said. Bunkerville, Nevada, Jan. 27, 2016 | File Photo by John Locher (AP), St. George News

The elder Bundy is accused of leading supporters who pointed military-style weapons at federal agents trying to enforce a court order to round up Bundy cattle from federal rangeland. The charges include conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, obstruction of justice and weapons charges.

Federal authorities have not said why they chose to arrest the 69-year-old now. They may have feared Bundy’s presence would draw sympathizers to defend the last remaining occupiers.

Like the others arrested, the four final occupiers are charged with conspiracy to impede federal employees, a felony that would cost them their right to carry guns if convicted. But that may not be the end of their legal trouble, said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School. She expected prosecutors to also bring charges such as theft of government resources or threatening federal officials.

“If they can convict them of a felony, they can disarm them,” she said. “Given what has happened here, I can understand why that would be a priority.”

WRITTEN BY: REBECCA BOONE and MARTHA BELLISLE, Associated Press

Bellisle reported from Seattle. Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, Terrence Petty in Portland, Oregon, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Samantha Shotzbarger in Phoenix and AP videographer Manuel Valdes in Burns contributed to this report.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

3 Comments

  • Will February 12, 2016 at 11:05 am

    “But after ranting for a while, he too gave up, saying he was having one more cookie and one more cigarette and asking others to join him in saying “hallelujah.””

    He actually said if all the men out there will shout halleluyah, I will surrender. Even the members of the swat team did, and according to the sheriff so did the men in the command center.

    He surrendered.

    “Patience”, is always on the side of Law enforcement. I hope the lesson is not lost on all law enforcement. Perhaps next time this comes up, those with the authority and power to use deadly force will remember…patience, patience, patience.

  • anybody home February 12, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Hallelujah! There were times when Oregonians were frustrated by the low-key response, but now everybody understands how well it worked, especially since it got Cliven up there, too. The Bundy gang is an entire barrel of rotten apples. And the FBI deserves a lot of praise for their patience and strategy. The funny thing at the end was that all the yahoos who had been spouting so much hate toward the government were crying like little girls to have their public defenders and rights, etc. You can’t have it both ways, Bundys. And trying to overthrow the government is still a major crime. No guns for you!

    I believe that the Utah/Nevada attitude of law enforcement toward crimes by people like the Bundys (aka Mormons and/or kin) combined with the general Mormon sense of being “chosen” contributed to this mess. And certainly gave Ammon Bundy all the “attitude” he had toward any law enforcement in Oregon. As for LaVoy Finicum, he was not a hero. He was an anti-government agitator everywhere he went and, in the end, committed suicide by cop. It is the man who shot him that Oregonians feel sorry for, not this outsider who tried to claim Oregon as his own – and to desecrate a much-loved place in the process. There is a sense that so much damage was done BECAUSE the place was so loved, a thumbing the nose at Oregonians and their state. As the Bundys and their gang learned, this is not the way to go. I hope what happened in Harney County is a clear lesson to others as ill-intentioned as the Bundys. This is still America.

    • ladybugavenger February 13, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      you enjoy the word Oregonians.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.