NATION

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy arrested as Oregon standoff holdouts say they will surrender

Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose refusal to pay federal grazing fees led to an armed standoff with law enforcement two years ago, was arrested late Wednesday in Portland, Ore., according to the F.B.I.

Bundy apparently was on his way to Oregon to show support for another standoff he had helped inspire -- the 40-day occupation of a wildlife refuge here led by two of his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy.

The F.B.I. provided no details on Bundy’s arrest, but a Facebook page operated by his supporters said he “was surrounded by SWAT and DETAINED” just after he landed at the Portland airport.

Bundy, 74, owes more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees that have accumulated over more than 20 years of illegally grazing cattle on federal property. In 2014, officers with the federal Bureau of Land Management who were trying to claim hundreds of his cattle were turned back by an armed group -- and Bundy has continued to graze his cattle on federal land since then.

The standoff made Bundy a star among anti-federal militants. Some of the same people involved in the standoff in Nevada have been central players in Oregon.

The Oregonian newspaper said Bundy faces a conspiracy charge to interfere with a federal officer -- the same charge faced by his sons and others in the Oregon standoff. He also faces weapons charges.

“They keep coming for us patriots, they keep attacking peaceful principled men and woman,” a post on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page said after the arrest. “What are the people to do when our government becomes the enemy of the law. Pray fervently tonight. Many are in peril.”

The arrest capped a startling turn of events late Wednesday, as the occupation of the remote refuge in Oregon appeared to be entering a tense final stage – much of which was broadcast live on the Internet by a supporter of the holdouts.

Earlier in the day, the FBI moved in to closely surround four armed occupiers who remain at the refuge.

“They’re 50 feet from me,” Sean Anderson said from inside the refuge, sounding increasingly agitated after federal law enforcement authorities tightened their circle around the occupation.

“We’re speeding,” Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore replied by phone as she and others drove toward the wildlife refuge in an attempt to avert a confrontation. “’We need you to stay alive.”

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Later Wednesday night, after prayers were said, Bible verses read and gospel music sung -- and no shortage of expletive-laden rants directed at the federal government -- the occupants of the refuge signaled that they planned to surrender to the FBI in the morning.

The vowed to walk out without their guns but carrying American flags.

"I just hope they'll keep their word, we'll keep our word, and we'll clear this up in the morning," Anderson said. "It's going against everything we believe in, but we'll do it."

Fiore, a Republican lawmaker who has expressed sympathy for the occupiers, had urged the holdouts to avoid a violent showdown so they could continue to advocate for their cause -- pressing for the broad transfer of federal lands to local control.

She told them she would arrive soon at the refuge with group of state lawmakers from Arizona, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming who are “all meeting there in Burns tonight," referring to the town nearest to the occupation. It was not immediately clear who else might be joining her.

“You have elected officials that are listening to this movement,” Fiore said. “You have done good.”

The digital-age drama unfolded in striking contrast to the remoteness of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which spans nearly 200,000 acres in the high desert of eastern Oregon and provides critical habitat for scores of migratory bird species.

Throughout the night, Gavin Seim, a self-described “liberty speaker” who broadcast audio from the conference call on his YouTube channel, updated the participants on how many people were tuned in. As many as 60,000 were listening at one point, he said.

 “We’re not going to let you rot in there,” Seim said.

 The FBI said in a statement early Wednesday evening that it had “moved to contain the remaining occupiers by placing agents at barricades both immediately ahead of and behind the area where the occupiers are camping.”

“Negotiations between the occupiers and the FBI continue,” the agency said. ”No shots have been fired.”

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The FBI said it took the latest action after one of the occupiers rode an all-terrain vehicle beyond a boundary the occupiers established after they took control of the refuge on Jan. 2.

The men and women at the refuge said they were protesting the prison sentences of two local ranchers found guilty of setting fires that spread to federal land, but their complaints expanded to a broad indictment of federal restrictions on cattle grazing, logging, mining and other land uses. 

The four holdouts were among 16 people who have been indicted on federal conspiracy charges related to the occupation, including Ammon Bundy, the principal leader of the takeover.

Bundy and several other occupation leaders were arrested during a traffic stop on Jan. 26 on a remote stretch of highway north of the refuge. One of the leaders, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was killed by Oregon State Police during the law enforcement operation.

The four holdouts have been surrounded for two weeks by law enforcement, who until Wednesday had established a broader perimeter.

Federal agents said they moved closer Wednesday after authorities “attempted to approach the driver” of the ATV “and he returned to the encampment at the refuge at a high rate of speed.”

"It has never been the FBI's desire to engage these armed occupiers in any way other than through dialogue, and to that end, the FBI has negotiated with patience and restraint in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully," said Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. 

“However, we reached a point where it became necessary to take action in a way that best ensured the safety of those on the refuge, the law enforcement officers who are on scene, and the people of Harney County who live and work in this area," Bretzing said. 

The four remaining occupiers are believed to be Anderson, 48, and his wife, Sandy, 47, both of Riggins, Idaho; David Fry, 27, of Blanchester, Ohio; and Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nev.

In the call on Wednesday, Seim interrupted the conversation often to lead group prayers and read passages from the Bible. He also played for those at the refuge a supportive audio message from Victoria Sharp, an 18-year-old who was present at Finicum’s death.

“Love you all. Stay calm, stay alive. We need your voices,” Sharp told them.

For two weeks, the holdouts had said they would not leave the refuge unless they were assured they would not be charged with crimes, notions that seemed increasingly far-fetched after they were indicted by a federal grand jury last week in Portland.

They maintained their position Wednesday evening but began to soften later in the night. They, Fiore and a lawyer in the car with her, Mike Arnold, all appeared to be having separate conversations with the FBI, even as they were talking with one another.

Early on, the Andersons said they had been negotiating with an agent named Mark, and they repeatedly expressed fear that agents were about to move in and kill them.

“We’re not going to shoot first,” Sean Anderson said. “We’re only going to defend ourselves. But they’re going to push the envelope, because that’s what they do.”

He accused those listening to the broadcast of tuning in to hear them die.

Fiore assured them that the agents would not hurt them.

“They said they will not make any moves to escalate anything tonight,” Fiore said.

Later, Anderson said the group had spoken to another agent named Bill and that they had agreed to turn themselves in on Thursday morning. Anderson said they would do so after Fiore arrived.

He also said he expected the evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham Jr., to be there. It was unclear whether Graham was involved, but the occupiers said in the conference call that the FBI had been in contact with him.

Anderson urged Fiore to bring a camera to the planned surrender and to encourage the news media to be there, so there would be documentation in case something did not go according to plan.

Earlier, Fiore told him the live broadcast of their call was essential to ensuring that the FBI did not take violent action against the occupiers.

“I want this archived for America,” she said.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

Feb. 11, 12:33 a.m.: This article was updated with Cliven Bundy's arrest. 

11:03 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details on the plans for surrender.

9:48 p.m.: This article was updated with information about surrender plans.

9:31 p.m.: This article was updated with a full staff report.

This article was originally published at 7:19 p.m.

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