BURNS, Ore. – For 26 days, armed occupiers have been holed up in a lonely federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon.
Dismissing the exhortations of the governor, ignoring the inconveniences of the residents, the armed men stood their ground saying they were protesting federal land policies.
The government waited patiently for an opportunity to end the situation peacefully. A break came Tuesday night when Ammon Bundy, the group’s leader, was arrested along with six others. An eighth person turned himself in. The group’s spokesman was killed.
Here’s a look at what happened — and what happens next.
Are protesters still at the wildlife refuge?
Yes, it appears so, though it’s unclear how many.
At its height, it was estimated that tens of people occupied the federal refuge, though numbers have fluctuated.
CNN’s Sara Sidner, who visited the refuge earlier this month, said she saw dozens of people there, mostly men.
After the arrest Tuesday, the normally outspoken group didn’t specifically say how many remain. However, the Gov. Kate Brown called for patience while officials work toward a “swift and peaceful resolution.”
What do the occupiers plan to do next?
That’s also unclear.
Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, has said he and others were prepared to stay in the building for days, weeks or months if necessary. They have enough food and other supplies, he said, to see them through for a long time.
Bundy has repeatedly warned that the armed occupiers don’t intend to harm anyone, but said that if law enforcement or others try to force them from the building, they would defend themselves.
On Tuesday, the group said on their unverified Facebook page that they were “at a heightened level of alert” and asked for prayers.
Why did they occupy the refuge in the first place?
When the group initially occupied the remote outpost about 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, their goals seemed hazy.
Bundy said that they essentially want two things.
First, they want the federal government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge so “people can reclaim their resources,” he told CNN.
And second, they want an easier prison sentence for Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, ranchers who were convicted in 2012 of committing arson on federal lands in Oregon.
Bundy has said the Hammonds’ case illustrates the government’s “abuse” of power, even though the Hammonds themselves said the occupiers don’t speak for them.
What happened Tuesday night?
Protest leaders were on their way to a community meeting set up by local residents when they were pulled over, according to The Oregonian.
Oregon State Police Troopers and the FBI arrested them during a traffic stop about 20 miles north of Burns, on Highway 395.
A law enforcement official told CNN that authorities pulled over two vehicles. Everyone obeyed orders to surrender except two people: LaVoy Finicum and Bundy’s brother, Ryan Bundy, the official said.
Shots were fired, but it’s not known who fired first, the official said. Ryan Bundy was injured and Finicum died, the official added.
Two other people affiliated with the group were arrested in separate incidents, and another turned himself in.
What do we know about Finicum?
Finicum was one of the most outspoken occupiers. Earlier this month, he told CNN he’d rather be killed than arrested.
“There’s no way I’m going to sit in a concrete cell where I can’t see the stars and roll out my bedroll on the ground,” he told CNN. “That’s just not going to happen. I want to be able to get up in the morning and throw my saddle on my horse and go check on my cows. It’s OK. I’ve lived a good life. God’s been gracious to me.”
Finicum was a rancher who lived in the Kaibab Plateau area of northern Arizona and publicly stated he was no longer paying federal grazing fees. He called the fees “extortion,” The Arizona Republic reported earlier this month.
He’d appeared at multiple press conferences at the refuge.
A Facebook post on the Bundy Ranch page claimed that Finicum had his hands up and was shot three times. That claim was repeated by Nevada assemblywoman and Bundy family supporter Michele Fiore. Fiore told the The Oregonian that Ammon Bundy called his wife from the back of a police car Tuesday night and told her that Finicum was cooperating with police when he was shot, the paper reported.
Authorities told CNN they are not commenting on the claims.
Why did they choose the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge?
Protesters broke into the refuge after a rally in support of the Hammonds. “This refuge — it has been destructive to the people of the county and to the people of the area,” Bundy said.
He said the refuge has taken over the space of 100 ranches since the early 1900s. “They are continuing to expand the refuge at the expense of the ranchers and miners,” Bundy said.
CNN has not independently corroborated Bundy’s claims.
No employees were inside the building when protesters broke in, officials said.
How is the community reacting?
Community reaction to the occupiers has been mixed.
Many of the townspeople have said they are upset about what has happened to the Hammonds, but the vast majority raised their hands when asked at a community meeting if they wanted the group to leave and the situation to end peacefully.
A few local ranchers have supported the group, bringing protesters food.
Leaders of the Burns Paiute tribe called the occupiers “bunch of bullies and little criminals” and asked them to leave.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, who has been most outspoken about the Bundys, released a statement after the arrests saying “I am relieved this situation is coming to an end, however, I am saddened by the loss of life. I hope and pray that those who remain at the Refuge will stand down peacefully.”
What happens next?
That depends on whether the rest of the occupiers leave.
Keeping an eye on them apparently hasn’t been cheap. The price tag on the occupation so far is costing Oregon about $100,000 a week, Gov. Brown said. She wants reimbursement from the federal government for those mounting costs.
Then there’s the legal process. All eight people arrested Tuesday face a federal felony charge relating to their occupation of the refuge: conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats, authorities said. It’s unclear when they’ll make their first court appearances.
Also unclear is how exactly the arrests unfolded, and who fired first.
“The situation in Harney County continues to be the subject of a federal investigation that is in progress. My highest priority is the safety of all Oregonians and their communities,” Gov. Brown said in a statement.