MALHEUR NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Oregon – The five people who remain holed up inside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon say they are ready to leave peacefully — or prepared to die.
The nearly monthlong armed occupation of the refuge — a protest of federal land policies — began to crumble this week when leader Ammon Bundy and seven other occupiers were arrested. One was killed in a traffic stop Tuesday night when authorities made some of those arrests.
Three others were arrested Wednesday when eight more left the refuge.
Sean Anderson, one of the occupiers who remains behind, told CNN he is there with his wife and three others.
The five have a proposal to leave peacefully but are not afraid to die, Anderson said.
They want the FBI to let them walk away and return to their home states without being arrested or confronted, Anderson said.
“We are willing to leave peacefully,” he said. “If the FBI will let us leave without arrest or forcing us through the checkpoint, we will all go home.”
Anderson said that he is from Idaho and that the others reside in states outside of Oregon, too.
If the occupiers — what he calls his “fellow patriots” — do not get assurance of an unimpeded exit, the holdouts are prepared to hold their ground, he said.
“No one here wants anyone to be hurt or die, but I am not afraid to die,” Anderson said.
‘Go home and hug your families’
The group’s leader urged an end to the occupation Wednesday. But will the remaining occupiers take his advice?
“Go home and hug your families,” protest leader Ammon Bundy said in a statement a day after he and other protesters were arrested and another was shot and killed during the traffic stop. “To those remaining at the refuge, I love you. Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down.”
Of the eight people who left the refuge Wednesday, three were arrested, including one of the group’s new leaders, Jason Patrick.
Each faces 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.
“All were in contact with the FBI, and each chose to turn himself into agents at a checkpoint outside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” an FBI statement said. “The arrests were without incident.”
Eight others were arrested Tuesday — seven of them in Oregon.
Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox and Ryan Waylen Payne were taken into custody Tuesday night on a desolate stretch of highway in Oregon.
Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy and Peter Santilli were arrested in Burns, about 30 miles from the refuge.
An eighth person was arrested in Arizona.
All of the people arrested Tuesday face the same federal felony charge, authorities said.
According to charging documents, a source told a Harney County officer that the group had explosives and night vision goggles and weapons, and that “if they didn’t get the fight they wanted out there they would bring the fight to town.”
Occupiers: ‘A patriot has fallen’
Killed during Tuesday’s traffic stop was LaVoy Finicum, one of the most vocal occupiers who took over the refuge building near Burns.
Earlier this month, the father of 11 told CNN he did not want to die — but would never go behind bars.
“I’m just not going to prison,” Finicum said. “Look at the stars. 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. 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.”
News of Finicum’s death quickly reached the protesters holed up at the refuge building.
“It appears that America was fired upon by our government,” the occupiers said on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page. “One of liberty’s finest patriots is fallen. He will not go silent into eternity.”
The occupiers said Finicum had his hands in the air when he was shot.
A law enforcement official told CNN that officers opened fire when Finicum reached toward his waistband, where he had a gun.
How much longer?
Now 27 days into the occupation, the question remains: How much longer?
Ammon Bundy and others started out protesting 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, with protesters decrying what they call government overreach when it comes to federal lands.
In telling the remaining occupiers to go home, Bundy said their fight now rests in the courts.
“We need to step back. Somebody died yesterday,” attorney Mike Arnold told reporters Wednesday. “Mr. Bundy wants everybody to remember that somebody died, and this is not just about him right now.”