Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Leaders of Oregon militia occupation arrested at traffic stop

One person killed, another injured as Ammon Bundy, leader of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation is arrested

One person was shot dead and eight others arrested on Tuesday after authorities confronted members of an armed group that has staged a month-long occupation of a federal wildlife reserve in Oregon, activists and officials said.

The FBI said gunshots rang out after officers stopped a car carrying protest leader Ammon Bundy and others near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Activists said Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, was killed.

Another person was injured, according to a statement issued by the FBI. 

It was not immediately clear if other armed individuals remained occupying the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon or if Ammon Bundy's arrest had ended the standoff, which began on Jan. 2 when Bundy's group, which has included people from as far away as Arizona and Michigan, seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as part of a long-running dispute over public lands in the West.

The Oregon Department of Transportation reported on its website that U.S. 395 was closed between the towns of Burns and John Day on Tuesday evening. The Oregonian reported that there had been a meeting scheduled between some members of the group and local residents in John Day on Tuesday night.

The FBI statement said that when the bureau with Oregon State Police “began an enforcement action to bring into custody a number of individuals associated with the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge” shots were fired.

“One individual who was a subject of a federal probable cause arrest is deceased,” according to the statement. “We will not be releasing any information about that person pending identification by the medical examiner's office.

“One individual suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transported to a local hospital for treatment,” the statement continued. “He was arrested and is currently in custody.”

During the action, authorities arrested in addition to Bundy, 40: Ryan C. Bundy, 43, Brian Cavalier, 44, Shawna Cox, 59, and Ryan Waylen Payne, 32. The FBI also arrested Peter Santilli, 50. All the arrests were made along Highway 395 in northeastern Oregon about 4:25 p.m.

In a separate action, Oregon State Police arrested Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, 45. 

Also on Tuesday evening, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, turned himself into the Peoria, Arizona, police department on Tuesday evening and was arrested was without incident, according to a statement released by the FBI. Ritzheimer was among the most visible of the occupiers at the wildlife refuge.

All of the people arrested “face a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats,” according to the FBI statement, which concluded that the bureau would make no further comments as the investigation was continuing.

Arianna Finicum Brown told The Oregonian that her father, standoff spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was the person who died at the highway stop.

“My dad was such a good good man, through and through,” said Brown, one of Finicum's 11 children. “He would never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved.”

The takeover at Malheur was the latest flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over the U.S. government's control of millions acres of land in the West.

The needs of ranchers, who need a lot of land for their cattle and must lease much of it from the federal government, must be balanced with other priorities, including environmental protection.

But some ranchers argue that the bureaucrats who have so much influence over their livelihoods often make arbitrary decisions and have little experience in the food industry.

Bundy's group, the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, said their move was in support of two local ranchers who were convicted of committing arson on public land near their property, under a federal anti-terrorism law. Each had served 12-month prison terms handed to them by the sentencing judge but were later told by appellate judges they had to serve five years instead. The ranchers' lawyer has said the occupiers do not speak for the family.

Law enforcement officials had largely kept their distance from the buildings at the refuge, 30 miles south of the small town of Burns in rural southeast Oregon's Harney County, in the hope of avoiding a violent confrontation.

Burns Mayor Craig LaFollette told Reuters that while he had limited information about the night's events, he hoped the stand-off would come to a peaceful end.

"I think my perception is that people's patience was running thin and that the community as a whole was looking for some resolution and to have these people leave," he said.

Bundy is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights. 

The Bundy ranch standoff drew hundreds of armed protesters after the Bureau of Land Management sought to seize Bundy's cattle because he refused to pay grazing fees. Federal agents backed down in the face of the large numbers of armed protesters and returned hundreds of cattle.

“Isn’t this a wonderful country we live in?" said Cliven Bundy told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday night. 

"We believe that those federal people shouldn’t even be there in that state, and be in that county and have anything to do with this issue. ... I have some sons and other people there trying to protect our rights and liberties and freedoms, and now we’ve got one killed, and all I can say is, he’s sacrificed for a good purpose.”

Federal law enforcement officers converged on the wildlife refuge after the arrests and were expected to remain at the site throughout the night. It was unclear how many members of the armed group, if any, were at the refuge when the law enforcement officers arrived.

The state police said it would investigate the officer-involved shooting, with help from the Deschutes County Major Incident Team and the Harney County District Attorney's Office.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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