BURNS, Ore. — Oregon militia leader Ammon Bundy is urging his followers at a wildlife refuge near Burns, Ore., to leave, according to a statement released by his attorney.
Bundy's lawyer, Mike Arnold, read a statement by Bundy, arrested Tuesday, on the steps of a courthouse in Portland.
"Right now, I am asking the federal government to allow the people at the refuge to go home without being prosecuted," the statement read. "To those remaining at the refuge, I love you. Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is ours for now in the courts. Please go home."
The statement also paid tribute to Lavoy Finnicum, the protester who died on Tuesday, as federal and state authorities arrested Bundy and seven more at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Bundy and the protesters had holed up there since Jan. 2. Authorities said the arrests came after futile efforts to end the standoff peacefully for 25 days.
Bundy's reported request came after mounting pressure from authorities for the protesters to abandon the site.
"They have chosen to threaten and intimidate the America they profess to love and through their criminal actions bring these consequences upon themselves," said Greg Bretzing, FBI special agent in charge, said earlier Wednesday.
In a particularly emotional statement before reporters, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward spoke directly to the remaining half-dozen holdouts at the refuge.
"It is time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on," Ward said, stopping periodically to regain his composure. "There doesn't have to be bloodshed in our community. (When) we have issues with the way things are in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act on them in an appropriate manner. We don't arm up, we don't rebel. We work through the appropriate channels. This can't happen anymore, this can't happen in America, and it can't happen in Harney County."
The brief statements by the FBI, sheriff and federal prosecutor came one day after law enforcement officers stopped a group of the protesters at a roadblock about 20 miles north of the refuge.
Arizona resident Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, 56, the soft-spoken but defiant co-leader of the protest group victim, was shot and killed. Officials refused to provide details, but his identity was confirmed by his family and reported by The Oregonian and NBC News.
Meanwhile, several members of a self-styled militia continued to defy authorities and maintain their occupation of the federal facility.
Bretzing told reporters the occupiers had "ample opportunity" to end their takeover. "Actions are not without consequences," he said.
Ward said officials might have been able to wait longer to move against the protesters if they had not "created a lot of stress" in the community.
"Some of these folks have spent a lot of time in town trying to stir up issues in the community," he said. "It has been tearing our community apart."
Bretzing said those who are still occupying the refuge and want to leave can do so through checkpoints where they will be identified. He also said they can call the negotiators by phone to discuss any questions they have.
In the confrontation Tuesday afternoon, Ryan Bundy, brother of Ammon Bundy, received a minor gunshot wound at the roadblock along U.S. 395, according to The Oregonian. He was treated and released from a local hospital and taken into FBI custody.
The group's two-car caravan was stopped as they were headed to a community meeting in the town of John Day. Several other protesters, who did not make the trip, remained behind at the compound and continued to defy authorities, even after the shooting.
One of them, Jason Patrick, said Wednesday he has been speaking with an FBI negotiator during the night who told him "they just want to get everybody off the refuge."
"It's hard to decide what to do," he said in a phone interview. Patrick called Finicum's death "disheartening" and described the incident at the roadblock as a "violent and coercive force."
Patrick said from inside the compound, where he was cooking eggs Wednesday morning, he could see a number of law enforcement officers in a convoy of armored vehicles.
"Sounds like the definition of peaceful resolution is either forcefully kidnapping me or death," he said. "A peaceful resolution is not dead people."
At mid-morning, the protesters posted a livestream YouTube channel of the site and asked supporters to pass along the link "so the word can get spread out."
The livestream showed armed protesters, many in camouflage uniforms and scanning the horizon with binoculars, gathered around a large encampment beside construction equipment. At one point a rider on horseback carried an American flag to the top of a hill.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., issued a statement calling on those remaining at the compound to end their protests.
"Once again, I urge those who remain at the refuge to go home before anyone else gets hurt," Walden said. "And when this is done and the cameras' glare turns away from rural Oregon, the healing process will be a long one."
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked for "patience as officials continue pursuit of a swift and peaceful resolution."
Early Wednesday, the FBI and Oregon State Police established a series of checkpoints along key routes into and out of the refuge. The agencies said in a statement that the containment was to "better ensure the safety of community members." They said the decision was made out of an abundance of caution.
Later, as they tightened their perimeter around the compound and appeared to be preparing for additional action, they advised reporters to leave the immediate area for their own safety.
According to the statement, only Harney County ranchers who own property in specific areas and show identification will be allowed to pass.
Brand Thornton, one of Bundy's supporters, said he left the refuge Monday and wasn't sure what those remaining would do. "The entire leadership is gone," he told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I wouldn't blame any of them for leaving."
Thornton called the arrests "a dirty trick" by law enforcement.
Those arrested include the Bundy brothers, Ryan 43, of Bunkerville, Nev., and Ammon, 40, of Emmett, Idaho, along with Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; and Ryan Waylen Payne, 32, of Anaconda,Mont. Also arrested, at separate locations in Burns, Ore., near the refuge, were Pete Santilli, host of a neoconservative online radio, and Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Ariz.
An eighth person, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, was arrested after turning himself into police in Peoria, Ariz.
Eight of those arrested were charged with a federal felony count of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.
Bundy, head of an anti-government group, had been holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since Jan. 2, when he and his followers seized its headquarters south of Burns as part of a long-running dispute over public land use in the West.
Bundy is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights. Finicum's death was also reported on the Bundy Ranch page on Facebook.
The elder Bundy said the fatal shooting and arrests should be a "wake-up call to America."
"This is a total disaster to be happening in America, where we have federal people killing innocent people," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "My sons were there to do good."
Finicum, who was spokesperson for the group, told The Oregonian on Monday that the mood had changed recently in conversations with the FBI. "The tenor has changed, they have become more hardened."
"They do no want to let go of this," said Finicum, author of an apocalyptic novel, Only By Blood and Suffering.
"They cannot leave it here, and we do not intend to give it back," he said, speaking to the media wearing a cowboy hat, glasses and gunbelt.
In an interview earlier this month with NBC, Finicum was asked if he would rather die than go to prison over the Oregon standoff. "I have no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box," he said. "There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them. ... I'm prepared to defend freedom."
NBC News correspondent Pete Williams, quoting unidentified sources, said Finicum was shot after stepping from a vehicle and brandishing a weapon. Williams reported there were nine people in two vehicles that were stopped at the roadblock. The vehicle in which Finicum was riding sped off from the roadblock but quickly ran into a snowbank. Not all occupants of the vehicles were arrested, Williams reported.
Finicum's ex-wife, Kelly Whatcott, said she learned from their children that he was shot and killed Tuesday. "He did not mean any harm to anyone," Whatcott said in a phone interview. "He believed fiercely in freedom. I know he carried around a holster and a gun, but he's a cowboy."
Finicum's daughter, Arianna Finicum Brown, told The Oregonian her father was "a good, good man, through and through." She said he would "never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved."
The confrontation came amid increasing calls for law enforcement to take action against Bundy for the illegal occupation of the wildlife refuge. They previously had taken a hands-off approach, reflecting lessons learned during bloody standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, during the 1990s, the AP reported.
Many residents of Harney County, where the refuge is located, have been among those demanding Bundy leave. Many sympathize with his criticism of federal land management policies of public lands but opposed the refuge takeover. They feared violence could erupt.
"I am pleased that the FBI has listened to the concerns of the local community and responded to the illegal activity occurring in Harney County by outside extremists," Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement. "I hope that the remaining individuals occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will peacefully surrender."
Stanglin reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Arizona Republic. Story courtesy USA TODAY.