FBI Works To End Standoff As Militants Linger At Oregon Refuge
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
There are more signs that the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon may be nearing an end, or at least there are now fewer militants holed up at the refuge following the arrest of rancher Ammon Bundy and his close followers. Today in Portland, Bundy's attorney Mike Arnold reiterated a call from his client for those still at the refuge to go home. He also posted audio of Bundy's wife Lisa on the law firm's website.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LISA BUNDY: I spoke with Ammon's lawyers yesterday and heard from his voice that those were his instructions. He wants people to go home, to go to their families.
CORNISH: For the latest on the situation in Harney County, we're going to go to NPR's Kirk Siegler. He's outside the sheriff's office in Burns, Ore. And, Kirk, what are the authorities telling you?
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Well, Audie, the FBI says it's working around-the-clock now to empty out the occupied refuge as quickly and as peacefully as possible. There has, of course, been a lot of criticism in the wake of the death of one of the militants. So there's a lot of scrutiny on this here. We do know that more of them have left the compound since Ammon Bundy's arrest and his call out for the rest of the militants to go home. Some of these men have surrendered at perimeter checkpoints and roadblocks set up by the FBI. And like the rest of the militants being held up in Portland right now, they're facing a felony charge of conspiracy to interfere with federal officials.
CORNISH: At this point, is it clear just how many militants are still out at the refuge?
SIEGLER: Well, for sure we know that there are only a handful, very few left out there. And one of them appears to be a man named David Fry. He's from Ohio. He had been sending out video from the compound on his YouTube account and had a website that looks as though it's been taken down. Amelia Templeton of Oregon Public Broadcasting was able to reach him briefly on a cell phone last night when he confirmed that he had been in touch with the FBI. Let's hear a little of that.
DAVID FRY: I called the FBI I said - we told them, we're willing to leave as long as no one's arrested.
SIEGLER: He's saying there that the militants are willing to leave, but they're demanding to not be arrested. Now, it appears that those who are left out there may not be part of the original group of followers of the Bundys. Again, that's what we're hearing - not confirmed yet. That Fry in particular and the others may be a bit more on the fringe. Fry has expressed a lot of antigovernment extremist views, so it's very much a concern that the violence may not be over here as these negotiations apparently are continuing.
CORNISH: This standoff has gone on for nearly a month now. Is there a sense of the condition of the buildings themselves, if there's any kind of damage?
SIEGLER: Well, this is a huge concern and, you know, it's hard for us to know for sure now that the FBI has surrounded the refuge and we can't get in there like we could before the arrests this past week. But there has been, you know, widespread reports, a possibility of government files being tampered with. It's not clear how much of the work done by the wildlife biologists out there may have been interfered with and as well as the state of the cultural artifacts that are stored there - artifacts that are considered sacred by the Burns Paiute people in this area. And remember, you know, this started off as an apparent protest directed at the Federal Bureau of Land Management and its federal land-use policies. The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is managed and run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not even the same agency. There are a lot of people caught in the middle here and, you know, even when this ends, assuming it ends, it's not clear if the refuge is going to reopen anytime soon due to the real safety concerns here.
CORNISH: Meanwhile, what about for people in the community? How are they reacting to all of this in Harney County and Burns, Ore.?
SIEGLER: You know, Audie, it can't be overstated. This incident is really stressing this community. Folks who have been talking to me, you know, saying this occupation has pit neighbors and family against each other. And everyone is still very tense and worried about the possibility of more blood being shed. And this is a very complicated issue here. Folks like the attention that some of this has drawn to their challenges of land use and poverty here in the rural West, but no one seems to like how this has all enfolded.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler in Burns, Ore. Kirk, thanks.
SIEGLER: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.