Harney County Standoff Continues – Day 7
Harney County Sheriff David Sheriff Ward met with Ammon Bundy on Thursday and made an offer to end the standoff. The offer of safe passage out of the state was rejected by the leader of the protesters.
“We need to find a peaceful resolution and get you guys out of here,” Ward said, but Bundy stated that the sheriff had not addressed their grievances.
“We plan on staying,” Bundy told reporters following a meeting. “I’m not afraid to go out of state. I don’t need an escort.”
Sheriff Ward was encouraged to reach out directly to the protesters at a town hall meeting Wednesday night in Burns that drew an estimated 400 people. Several speakers urged the sheriff to do just what he did Thursday, and several ranchers had volunteered to join him if needed to end the occupation.
In an interview with The Oregonian, he said the community meeting the night before in Burns convinced him to reach out to Bundy.
“They saw a strong showing from the people of Harney County that they wanted them to go home,” Ward said. Arrangements for the meeting were negotiated by phone — with Ward promising no protester appearing at the meeting would be arrested. Ward said the militants weren’t asked to come unarmed.
Local residents have expressed a mixture of sympathy for the Hammond family, suspicion of the federal government’s motives and frustration with the occupation.
At about the same time as the meeting, Gov. Kate Brown was making her strongest remarks yet on the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, calling the action “unlawful” and demanding the group “decamp immediately.”
Brown’s office said the governor’s stance was moved by two events Wednesday. Early in the day, members of the Burns Paiute Tribe held a news conference asking the militants “to get the hell” off refuge land the tribe has traditionally seen as its own.
Then, Wednesday night, hundreds of Oregonians who live near the refuge gathered for a community meeting where they expressed sympathy for the militants’ message criticizing federal land management but nonetheless said the group had worn out its welcome in Harney County.