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Ammon Bundy asks supporters to abandon Oregon occupation

"Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down. Please stand down. Go home and hug your families."
Ammon Bundy departs after addressing the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016. (Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters)
Ammon Bundy departs after addressing the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016.

Ammon Bundy asked his remaining followers occupying Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to stand down Wednesday and leave the property.

The message was delivered by an attorney for Bundy, who was arrested late Tuesday afternoon along with his brother Ryan and six of their followers.

"I'm asking the federal government to allow the people at the refuge to go home without being prosecuted," Bundy said in a statement read by his lawyer, Mike Arnold, outside court. "To those at the refuge, I love you. Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down. Please stand down. Go home and hug your families."

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In a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland, the FBI said Bundy intended for the refuge — which he and his followers occupied on Jan. 2 — to become a permanent headquarters for anti-government "patriots from all over the country."

According to the FBI, Bundy says in a video: "We're planning on staying here for several years."

Local and federal authorities arrested the suspects late Tuesday afternoon, most of them as they were driving to the town of John Day to attend a community meeting.

In addition to Ammon and Ryan Bundy, others named in the indictment are:

  • Jon Ritzheimer
  • Joseph O'Shaughnessy
  • Ryan Payne
  • Brian Cavalier
  • Shawna Cox
  • Peter Santilli

All are charged with conspiring to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.

A seventh follower, Robert LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed under circumstances that haven't been explained. A memorial vigil was observed for Finicum in Burns on Wednesday night.

Most of the evidence cited in the FBI affidavit comprises previously available blog and social media posts and videos by the defendants, along with news reports of their comments.

The affidavit reports that on Oct. 5, 2015, Payne and Ammon Bundy visited Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward to warn him that there would be "extreme civil unrest" if Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46 — who set fires that spread to government lands they leased to graze cattle — were allowed to go free.

In January, the Hammonds disassociated themselves from the occupiers.

That meeting appears to have been what Ward was referring to in a news conference Wednesday, when he said the suspects "had ultimatums that I couldn't meet. I'm here to uphold the law."

RELATED: Shots fired, arrests made in stand-off with Oregon militants

In a November email cited by the FBI, Payne is quoted as having written: "But the display of tyranny in this particular case is so appalling, the people being directly subjected to it so undeserving, and the oppressive weight so heavily and completely applied; upon not only the Hammonds, but their entire community; that to decide to allow it to persist should trouble the soul such that death might be a welcome relief."

And in what appears to be a new allegation, the FBI affidavit says that on Dec. 18, Ritzheimer and a second, unidentified person menaced an employee of the federal Bureau of Land Management whom they encountered at a grocery store in Burns.

The BLM employee — who is referred to only as "Citizen" in the affidavit — told investigators that the unidentified man "stated he was going to burn Citizen's house down."

A small number of people remained in the wildlife refuge Wednesday night. The FBI and Oregon State Police set up a series of checkpoints for people trying to get into and out of the area.

The Bundy brothers are the sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who staged an armed standoff with the BLM in 2014 with the help of several dozen armed supporters. Federal rangers acting on a court order tried to confiscate 500 of Bundy's cattle, alleging that he'd let them illegally graze on public land for more than a decade.

In a video interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cliven Bundy said the confrontation Tuesday at Malheur "will be a wakeup call to America."

"This is a total disaster to be happening in America where we have, I'm guessing, federal people killing innocent people," he said. "I'll tell you one thing, my sons and those who were there were there to do good. No harm was intended. They would never threaten anybody.

"They [were] trying to teach people about the Constitution, trying to help the Hammond family, trying to make sure that this type of abuse that happened to them tonight did not happen in America," Bundy told the newspaper. "And yet it did. And that's about all I've got to say."