PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The four remaining occupiers at an Oregon wildlife refuge are facing charges, according to court documents released Thursday that say more than a dozen armed activists threatened violence against federal authorities and used social media to urge others to join them.
A newly unsealed indictment names 16 defendants, including the holdouts, standoff leader Ammon Bundy and other occupiers arrested last week. Also named is Kenneth Medenbach, who was arrested after being caught driving a government vehicle to a supermarket.
A federal grand jury charged all with felony conspiracy, accusing them of using intimidation to prevent federal officers from doing their work at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The holdouts have said they are not leaving without a guarantee they won’t be arrested. If they stay true to their word, the indictment buries any chance they will surrender on their own.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- A heart-stopping moment: How a mild case of COVID changed this man's life
- Ted Cruz called an Australian vaccine mandate 'tyranny.' Then came the stinging response
- Moderna vs. Pfizer: Both knockouts, but one seems to have the edge
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- Rachel Levine, openly transgender health official, to be sworn in as four-star admiral
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI declined comment Thursday, but the lack of movement in recent days indicates negotiators were not offering amnesty.
The remaining occupiers are: David Fry, 27, of Blanchester, Ohio; Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada; and Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, a married couple from Riggins, Idaho.
Fry’s father, William Fry, was disappointed that his son has been charged, saying in an email: “We were hoping for a more positive outcome.”
He said his son is no different than those who believe “our country is heading in the wrong direction.”
“He believes it so strongly he is willing to stand up with the hope that these actions might wake the nation up and lead others to get involved to change our country’s course,” the father said.
William Fry said he is still “hoping and praying to welcome our son home safely.”
Responding to the grand jury indictment, Ammon Bundy on Thursday struck a defiant tone in an audio recording and a written statement from the county jail in Portland where he is being held.
“Taking over the refuge was not only right, it was the duty of the people to do,” Bundy said in the audio recording, which was released by his family.
Bundy called his jailed followers “political prisoners” who were just trying to educate ranchers and others about their constitutional rights on federal lands and abuses by federal authorities.
Bundy made reference to the death last week of one of the lead occupiers, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, who died in a confrontation with FBI agents and Oregon state troopers that also resulted in the arrest of Bundy and others.
Bundy said in the recording “Go home, Oregon State Police, you have already killed enough” and “Go home, FBI, it is time to end this.”
FBI agents, Oregon State Police and other law enforcement officers are deployed around the refuge as the last four occupiers continue to refuse to leave.
The standoff began Jan. 2, with Bundy’s group demanding the federal government turn public lands over to local control and free two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires.
Two conspirators traveled to the sparsely populated area of southeastern Oregon last October to warn the local sheriff of “extreme civil unrest” if certain demands were not met, according to the indictment.
Once the occupation began, the group brandished firearms to keep officials from carrying out their duties, threatened violence and intimidated locals “to effectuate the goals of the conspiracy,” the documents say.
Defense attorneys have said at court hearings that their clients engaged in civil disobedience and are being punished for political speech. They say the only use of force was by police who shot and killed Finicum during a Jan. 26 traffic stop.
Finicum’s death led to protests this week by those supporting the occupation, while local residents rallied to urge the holdouts to leave, further dividing the strained community.
Federal authorities fear those tensions could pop up elsewhere and have increased security at national wildlife refuges in southern Oregon, Northern California and Nevada and put the rest of the preserves nationwide on heightened alert.
The additional security measures are in place at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which straddles the Oregon-California border; Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada; and Modoc National Wildlife Refuge in Northern California.
Preserves and other national sites run by the Fish and Wildlife Service are being extra vigilant, said Gavin Shire, the agency’s chief of public affairs.
“Due to the evolving situation in eastern Oregon, all service stations are on alert and being advised to take appropriate caution,” Shire said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Dan Sewell contributed to this report from Cincinnati.