Armed group pledges to prolong US standoff after killing

Checkpoints at Oregon national wildlife refuge day after Robert LaVoy Finicum dies


US and state officials in Oregon on Wednesday set up checkpoints around Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where an armed group pledged to prolong its standoff with the government a day after one protester was killed and eight others were arrested.

Authorities said the new security involves a series of checkpoints along key routes into and out of the refuge, and was set up out of an “abundance of caution” to protect the public and law enforcement.

Only ranchers who own property in the area will be allowed in and anyone coming out of the refuge will have to show identity papers and have their vehicle searched.

The month-long occupation of the wildlife reserve over federal control of large tracts of the country turned violent on Tuesday after officers stopped a car carrying protest leader Ammon Bundy and others near the refuge. Activists said Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, was killed.

There were no details on what set off the shooting. The FBI said authorities would hold a news conference on Wednesday at 9:30am PST (5.30pm GMT) in Burns, a town near the refuge.

‘Stand by’ order

Amid concerns that Mr Finicum’s killing could escalate violence, the militia groups Pacific Patriots Network, Oathkeepers and 3% of Idaho said in a joint statement they were issuing an immediate “stand by” order.

“During this time, cooler heads must prevail,” the statement said. “We do not wish to inflame the current situation and will engage in open dialogue until all of the facts have been gathered.”

Anti-militia sentiment also lit up social media, making #OregonStandoff among the top trending hashtags.

One of the remaining occupiers at the reserve, Jason Patrick, told Reuters by phone they would stay until the “redress of grievances”.

“I’ve heard ‘peaceful resolution’ for weeks now and now there’s a cowboy who is my friend who is dead - so prepare for the peaceful resolution,” Mr Patrick said.

The Malheur takeover, which started on January 2nd, was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres in the West.

Protesters say they are defending the Constitution. Mr Bundy’s father, Cliven, was a key figure in a 2014 armed standoff over unpaid grazing fees in Nevada.

Federal officials said on Tuesday they had probable cause to arrest Mr Finicum, who told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be detained.

Manpower increased

In an interview on Monday with the Oregonian newspaper, Mr Finicum said federal authorities had increased manpower around the refuge and stepped up their aircraft and drone surveillance. There also was a change of attitude, he said.

“We used to could walk up to them and talk with the FBI agents in a friendly manner ... but the tenor has changed,” Mr Finicum said. “They have become more hardened. When they step out of their vehicles now they’re stepping out with their rifles and they’re not willing to engage in just friendly dialogue ...

“Whether this is just sabre-rattling to intimidate or whether they actually mean it, we don’t know ... They do not want to let go of this. They do not intend on losing here. And we do not intend on giving it back to them.”

Mr Patrick, who is still in the refuge, likened Mr Finicum’s death to that of Tamir Rice, an unarmed 12-year-old black youth fatally shot by Cleveland police outside a recreation centre in 2014. The officers involved in that incident were not charged.

“The government can kill who they want for whatever reason they want with impunity,” Mr Patrick said.

He was asked how the occupiers would respond to authorities entering the refuge but did not indicate a clear plan.

“I don’t know what to tell you, but if somebody saying ‘peaceful resolution’ comes in and points guns at me ...” Mr Patrick said before trailing off.

Many Twitter users expressed satisfaction about the arrests. David Plotnik (@davidkippy) tweeted: “Finally, the #Bundy militia get what they deserve. They cannot set a good example for all the radical #republicans out there. #democrats.”

Mr Bundy and four other leaders of the occupation were taken into custody following the confrontation along Highway 395 in northeast Oregon around 4.25pm (12.25am Irish time on Wednesday morning), according to the FBI.

A sixth individual was arrested by the Oregon State Police in Burns, Oregon, about 1 1/2 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 also 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.