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Leader of armed takeover tells followers to leave federal refuge

Mugshots of the first eight people arrested in connection with the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Photos from Multnomah County Sheriff

The armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon appears to be coming to an end.

Ammon Bundy, a leader of the anti-government protest, called on the few remaining people at the refuge to leave. His attorney issued a statement after he was arrested and after one of the participants -- Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, 55, who had been the primary spokesperson of the takeover. -- was killed in a confrontation with authorities on Tuesday.

"Please stand down," Bundy said in the statement. "Go home and hug your families. This fight is ours for now in the courts. Please go home."

So far, 11 people -- including Bundy and his brother, Ryan -- have been arrested and are facing various federal charges. The Bundys and some of the other defendants appeared in court on Wednesday, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Meanwhile, only about five people remain at the refuge, OPB said. Some were allowed to leave on Wednesday without being arrested and the few that are left are negotiating with authorities for their departure, OPB and The Oregonian reported.

The incident began on January 2 when the Bundys and their followers broke off from a peaceful march in Burns, about 30 miles from the refuge. They claimed they were seeking the return of the land to the local community and the release of two ranchers who are serving time in federal prison for lighting fires on federal land.

The occupation immediately drew fire from the Burns Paiute Tribe, whose original reservation included the land in and around the refuge. Shortly before the takeover, Cliven Bundy, the patriarch of the family, posted a statement that claimed the federal government took the land from settlers when in fact 1.78 million acres was taken from the Northern Paiute people.

The tribe -- whose members now live on a much smaller reservation in Burns -- repeatedly called for the protesters to leave their ancestral territory. Even as the group dwindled, Chairwoman Charlotte Rodrique expressed concerns.

“You have a snake out there with its head cut off, and you don’t know what it’s doing, and it’s still wriggling and unpredictable — they have no leadership to caution them,” Rodrique told The New York Times.

The tribe was particularly worried about potential damage to thousands of artifacts and burial sites at the refuge. The Bundys and their supporters posted videos that showed them rifling through the items and making physical changes that disturbed the landscape.

“There are roads and fortifications being built right now, and it’s totally a visible violation of federal and state laws protecting our cultural resources,” Rodrique told the Times.

That type of activity can be seen as typical for the Bundys, a family from Nevada whose members have been involved in a series of members have been involved in anti-government protests. During one incident in Utah, ancestral tribal sites were damaged by an illegal motor vehicle ride through federal land. Several people were charged and a county commissioner served just 10 days in jail for his role in the crime.

Get the Story:
Occupiers leaving amid mounting calls to end the takeover (The Oregonian 1/27)
Militants Appear In Federal Court, Bundy Calls For End To Standoff (Oregon Public Broadcasting 1/27)
More Arrests As FBI Negotiates With Remaining Militants (Oregon Public Broadcasting 1/27)
In Oregon siege, troubling signs of a movement on the offensive (The Washington Post 1/27)
More Oregon occupiers arrested; others leave as standoff appears to dwindle (The Washington Post 1/28)
3 More Arrests in Oregon as Protest Leader Says ‘Go Home’ (The New York Times 1/28)
LaVoy Finicum: ‘I Would Rather Die Than Be Caged’ (The New York Times 1/28)

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