By Dave Seminara, Julie Turkewitz and Kirk Johnson

New York Times News Service

More arrests

The FBI and Oregon State Police say they’ve arrested three more people connected to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

A statement said they arrested 45-year-old Duane Leo Ehmer, of Irrigon, and 34-year-old Dylan Wade Anderson, of Provo, Utah, around 3:30 p.m. A few hours later, 43-year-old Jason S. Patrick, of Bonaire, Georgia, was arrested.

The FBI says the men turned themselves in to agents at a checkpoint on a road near the refuge.

As with the eight others arrested a day earlier, officials say these men will face one 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.

FBI officials say they are working around the clock to empty the refuge of armed occupiers in the safest way possible.

— The Associated Press

PRINCETON — The armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon, which flashed into violent confrontation with law enforcement Tuesday when eight members of the  group were arrested and one was killed,  appeared to be unraveling Wednesday night when the jailed leader of the siege advised his followers to go home. 

 For weeks, the occupation barely felt like a siege at all: The anti-government militants came and went as they pleased, driving down snow-packed highways to attend community meetings and even going out for dinner. With little sign that law enforcement was about to move beyond surveillance, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge became more theater than threat.

That changed Tuesday night when the ringleaders, the Bundy brothers, Ammon and Ryan, were among eight arrested, and a leading protester, LaVoy Finicum, 55, was shot dead by the authorities during a traffic stop on a rural road.

But late Wednesday, after a court appearance in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ammon Bundy issued a statement through his lawyer, Mike Arnold.

“To those remaining at the refuge, I love you. Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is ours for now in the courts. Please go home,” Bundy said.

Speaking on the telephone from inside the refuge Wednesday night, an occupier, David Fry, 27, said there were seven people remaining. He said the group had been drinking. “We’re camping out tonight here, by this campfire,” he said, adding that they would stay “until someone starts listening or until they slaughter us.”

Group members, passing around a phone, said they believed Finicum was murdered and that holding Ammon Bundy in jail was an outrage to them.

Earlier Wednesday, the remaining occupiers took a vote and decided to dig in and stay; on a streaming video from inside the refuge, a handful of men could be seen carrying long guns, operating a backhoe belonging to the federal government and speaking darkly of a bloodbath.

Also on Wednesday, law enforcement officials — for the first time since the occupation started Jan. 2 — set up barricades and checkpoints on a two-lane road into the refuge where a few weeks ago there were barely any vehicles. They vowed to stop and interrogate anyone who tried to enter or leave the Malheur, as most people here call it, saying that protesters who wanted to leave peacefully would be allowed to do so. They made it clear that the days when journalists could mingle freely with the protesters, and local ranch families could drop by with a batch of soup or just to chat, were over.

Dave Ward, the sheriff of Harney County, where the vast refuge is located — almost 300 square miles of high desert sage — choked up with emotion Wednesday as he discussed the previous night’s bloodshed at a news conference. “It didn’t have to happen,” he said. “We all make choices in life, sometimes those choices go badly.” He and other officials said the group, led by the Bundy brothers, had only themselves to blame for what had happened.

But what could come next is a different question, and Harney County is holding its breath.

“It’s still not over,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “My top priority is to ensure the safety and security of the residents of Harney County, and obviously everybody is on pins and needles.”

News media crews at the refuge headquarters — more or less camped out there since the occupation began — drove away, out of concern for their own safety. Finicum, an Arizona rancher who had been a familiar face to reporters and others after the protest, was killed when law enforcement agents stopped a vehicle carrying Ammon Bundy and other leaders on their way to a community meeting about 100 miles north of Malheur in the town of John Day.

Accounts of what happened on Highway 395, about 20 miles from the refuge, offered on social media and elsewhere, varied widely on the death of Finicum, who had said that he considered death preferable to prison. Some said he was shot while charging officers, others that he was killed while surrendering. Five people were arrested in the highway stop, two others in Burns and one in Arizona. Officials said all eight would be charged in federal court with a felony: conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.

At least one person claiming to have witnessed what happened said the occupants of the vehicle carrying Ammon Bundy were arrested without incident, but that Finicum, driving a pickup truck, sped off, stopping only when he reached a law enforcement roadblock. Federal and local officials who spoke here at a news conference declined to clarify what had happened because the encounter was still under investigation.

“Please keep praying and keep using your voice to get the truth out,” Finicum’s family said in a brief statement. “This fight against tyranny is not over.”

The implications of a group now suddenly without its leaders — many of whom, including Ammon Bundy, had said over and over that he hoped for peaceful resolution — has created an unsettled feeling that it could all get worse.

“You have a snake out there with its head cut off, and you don’t know what it’s doing, and it’s still wriggling and unpredictable — they have no leadership to caution them,” said Charlotte Rodrique, the chairwoman of the Burns Paiute Tribe.