Protesters were still occupying the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon after leader Ammon Bundy’s arrest. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was setting up a perimeter in the hopes of a peaceful resolution, a law enforcement official said.
The FBI has arrested eight people in two states.
The takeover at Malheur that started on January 2 is the latest flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over the US government’s control of millions acres of land in the West.
Several media outlets, including the Oregonian and CNN, reported that law enforcement sources said LaVoy Finicum had been killed. Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesperson for the occupiers, told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be arrested.
“There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them,” he said in the NBC interview.
Bundy and four other leaders of the occupation were taken into custody following the confrontation along Highway 395 in northeast Oregon around 4.25pm local time, according to the FBI.
The Oregon State Police arrested a sixth individual in Burns, Oregon, about one and a half hours later. The FBI said a seventh person was later arrested, 50-year-old Peter Santilli, an independent journalist who livestreamed events at the refuge.
The FBI said they had arrested an eighth person in Peoria, Arizona, in relation to the occupation.
All of those arrested face federal charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said.
The Oregonian reported that Bundy had been en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, with several other members of the occupation, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker, when authorities stopped his vehicle.
The newspaper said 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother, was injured in the arrest, suffering a minor gunshot wound. Authorities did not release the identity of the person killed, but said he was the subject of a federal probable cause arrest.
About 40km of Highway 395 was shut down in both directions following the incident, a dispatcher for the state department of transportation said. The highway was expected to remain closed as authorities investigate the shooting.
The occupiers of the wildlife refuge said they were supporting two local ranchers who were returned to prison this month for setting fires that spread to federal land. The ranchers’ lawyer has said the occupiers do not speak for the family.
Burns mayor Craig LaFollette said that, although he had limited information about the night’s events, he hoped the stand-off would come to a peaceful end.
“I think my perception is that people’s patience was running thin and that the community as a whole was looking for some resolution and to have these people leave,” he said.
Law enforcement officials had largely kept their distance from the buildings at the refuge, 48km south of the small town of Burns in rural southeast Oregon’s Harney County, in the hope of avoiding a violent confrontation.
Local residents have expressed a mixture of sympathy for the Hammond family, suspicion of the federal government’s motives and frustration with the occupation. –Reuters