A 41-day occupation at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon ended Thursday when the four remaining protesters surrendered to authorities, according to a live-streamed phone call transmitted from the scene.
For a moment, the surrender took a dramatic turn when the last holdout refused to follow the other three and continued the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge‘s headquarters in Harney County.
David Fry contended his grievances against the federal government hadn’t been addressed, but he ultimately relented and abandoned the occupation after supporters coaxed him on the phone call, which was carried on YouTube and followed by tens of thousands of listeners for several hours.
Fry said, “I am walking to them right now” as the other people on the phone call said, “Hallelujah, keep walking.”
Through the open phone line, listeners could hear officials as they arrested the man, saying “nice and easy, hands behind your back.”
The end of the siege came after the armed occupiers earlier indicated they would turn themselves in. By morning’s end, they fulfilled that pledge.
Hours before, federal agents arrested the figurehead of the protesters’ movement: Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who didn’t participate in the occupation but is the father of arrested standoff leader Ammon Bundy.
For now, the arrests of the Bundys and the end of occupation put the dispute in the hands of the courts. The Bundys and their supporters argue that the federal government has exceeded the boundaries of the Constitution.
Cliven Bundy announced on Wednesday he was heading to Oregon, according to a Facebook page for his Nevada ranch. He came to the national spotlight in a showdown with the federal Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights for his cattle in 2014.
“It’s time!” the post said Wednesday. “Cliven Bundy is headed to the Harney County Resource Center in Burns Oregon.”
But Bundy was taken into federal custody in Portland after landing early Thursday, the FBI said.
Bundy to appear in court Thursday
Bundy was charged with six counts relating to the 2014 standoff with the federal government, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Nevada.
He was charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, assault on a federal law officer by use of a deadly and dangerous weapon, interference with commerce by extortion, and obstruction of justice. He was also charged with two counts of use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, the complaint said.
He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Portland at 1:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET), prosecutors said.
The Bundy ranch’s Facebook page posted a statement that Bundy was arrested for charges “related to his standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 2014.” The post continued, “The charges include a conspiracy charge to interfere with a federal officer … and a weapons charge.”
Bundy’s son, Ammon, was arrested last month.
News from a conference call
During a purported live stream of a conference call Wednesday night between protesters, activists and conservative Nevada lawmaker Michele Fiore, the occupiers said they were prepared to leave.
The audio was live-streamed on YouTube.
Fiore told those on the call that Mike Arnold — Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, who Fiore said was in the car with her — spoke with the FBI. She said the agency promised it would stand down Wednesday night and allow her to be at an FBI checkpoint when the occupiers turn themselves in.
One man who planned to be there is Franklin Graham, the nationally known evangelist and son of legendary preacher Billy Graham, who said he’s been talking with “the last four holdouts … every day by phone for the last week at their request and at the request of the FBI.”
The live stream started after the FBI on Wednesday surrounded those occupying the refuge.
According to the agency, one of the remaining occupiers rode outside barricades at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. When agents tried to approach him, he sped back to the refuge.
After that, the FBI said agents “moved to contain the remaining occupiers by placing agents at barricades both immediately ahead of and behind the area where the occupiers are camping.”
The FBI said no shots were fired.
“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’s Portland office.
“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.”
‘God has put us on this path’
Earlier on the call, the occupiers sounded concerned that the FBI planned to move in Wednesday night and that it would lead to their deaths. At times, they seemed to fatalistically embrace that outcome.
When one woman — presumed to be Fiore — asked two of them about their families, a man responded, “God has put us on this path. Our families are already taken care of; they weren’t in our lives much before all this because God made sure we didn’t have that to weigh us down so that we could do this.”
The people on the phone could be heard debating conditions for which they’d be willing to leave the refuge.
Protest led to armed occupation
Ammon Bundy and others started out demonstrating against the sentencing of Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, ranchers who were convicted of arson on federal lands in Oregon.
But a January 2 march supporting the Hammonds led to the armed occupation of the refuge building, with protesters decrying what they call government overreach when it comes to federal lands.
Bundy and other members of his group were arrested during an incident along a highway last month.
At the same time, law enforcement officers shot and killed LaVoy Finicum, one of the protest group’s most prominent members.