FBI erects checkpoints at occupied Ore. refuge after militia leader nabbed

Action comes after authorities arrested eight protesters, including group leader, and one person was killed

The FBI on Wednesday surrounded and established checkpoints at a national wildlife preserve in Oregon where some armed activists still are believed to be holed up, saying the decision came out of "an abundance of caution."

Militia leader Ammon Bundy made his first court appearance in Portland on Wednesday and his attorney, Mike Arnold, read this statement from his client: "Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is now in the courts."

It was unclear whether the remnant of Bundy's followers still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns was ready to heed his advice.

Authorities arrested the leaders of the small group that has been occupying Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for more than three weeks during a traffic stop where gunfire erupted and one man was killed late Tuesday.

Jason Patrick, a new leader of the occupation, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that five or six members of the group agreed to continue the standoff.

The FBI said early Wednesday that anyone leaving the refuge would have to show identification and submit to a vehicle search. Only ranchers who live in the area surrounding the preserve will be allowed to pass the checkpoints.

The takeover at Malheur that started Jan. 2 was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over the U.S. government's control of millions of acres of territory in the west. Protesters say they are defending the Constitution.

Patrick told Reuters by phone they would stay until a “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 FBI said gunshots rang out after officers stopped a car carrying protest leader Ammon Bundy and others near the refuge. Activists said Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, an Arizona rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, was killed.

Federal officials said they had probable cause to arrest Finicum, who told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be detained.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday, the Finicum family appeared to forgive officials for LaVoy’s death, but urged the occupiers to “press forward.”

"This fight against tyranny is not over. Press forward,” the statement said. “Forgiveness is what we can extend and understanding is what we want. Christ was and is LaVoy’s exemplar. Though there are evil and conspiring men at work, Christ still forgave the executioners for they knew not what they did."

Protest leader Ammon Bundy and four other senior members were taken into custody following the confrontation along Highway 395, near the reserve in northeast Oregon around 4:25 p.m. local time, the FBI said.

A sixth person was arrested by Oregon State Police in Burns, Oregon, about 90 minutes later. The FBI said a seventh person was later arrested, 50-year-old Peter Santilli, a journalist who livestreamed events at the refuge.

The FBI said they also arrested an eighth person in Peoria, Arizona, in relation to the occupation. The man, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, was arrested without incident when he surrendered himself to police.

All of those arrested face federal charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said.

The protester Patrick likened Finicum’s death to the killing of Tamir Rice, an unarmed 12-year-old black boy fatally shot by police outside a Cleveland recreation center in 2014. The officers in that case were not charged.

“The government can kill who they want for whatever reason they want with impunity,” Patrick said.

Asked how the occupiers would respond to law enforcement entering the refuge he 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,” he said before trailing off.

The Oregonian reported that Bundy had been en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker, when authorities stopped his vehicle.

The newspaper said 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, Ammon's brother, suffered a minor gunshot wound.

Faced with a continued standoff, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday vowed to work with authorities to end the occupation as soon as possible.

"My office will continue collaborating with law enforcement partners to resolve the situation and hold wrongdoers accountable," she said.

Wire services

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