FBI seeks 'peaceful' end to armed standoff at Oregon federal building
A sign at the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles southeast of Burns, Oregon. KTVZ photo
BY SHAMAR WALTERS and ALEXANDER SMITH, NBC News
(NBC News) - The FBI was leading efforts early Monday to bring a "peaceful" end to a standoff with armed protesters who occupied a federal building in rural Oregon.
The group seized the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Saturday after splintering off from a larger protest about ranchers' rights in the small town of Burns.
No government employees were at the site at the time because of the holidays. It was not clear how many people had occupied the building but those inside have asked for others to join them during several videos posted online.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy — sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher known for another standoff with the federal government last year — were among the occupiers.
The FBI said in a statement Sunday that it was working with local and state police "to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation."
The agency said it would not be providing details of its response because of "safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved."
Several pickup trucks blocked the entrance to the refuge Sunday, with armed men wearing camouflage and winter gear stationed outside, The Associated Press reported.
Although there was no police presence at the site, authorities have warned people to stay away and the county has canceled school until next week as a precaution.
Ryan Bundy told the AP that the goal of the occupation was to turn over federal land to local authorities so it could be used "for ranching, logging, mining and recreation" and free of federal oversight.
The initial protest in Burns was in support of a father and son, Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, who were about to by jailed for setting fires that spread to government lands.
"These ranchers have been in this situation that's really a form of tyranny."
Ryan Bundy said in an interview with NBC News on Sunday that the Hammond family's case was "an example of the terrorism that the federal government is placing upon the people."
However the Hammonds' lawyer appeared to rebuff this support, telling police that "neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organization speak for the Hammond family."
Ammon Bundy said in a Facebook video Sunday that the occupiers had "a lot of community members reach out to us," with most of the support coming from local ranchers.
"We've been able to see that these ranchers have been in this situation that's really a form of tyranny," he said.
He also said in the video that an unidentified "county representative" had come to the group and alleged that "he and other county representatives are being intimidated by the FBI." He did not provide further details of this allegation.
In a video posted late Saturday, he said his group was prepared "to be out here for as long as needs be."
He added: "Once they can use these lands as free men, then we will have accomplished what we came to accomplish."