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Harney County Officials React To Occupation's End

After 41 days, the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge concluded when the last four militants surrendered to the FBI. Reactions to the occupiers’ every move came in real time online as negotiations streamed live.

David Fry was the final occupier to turn himself in to authorities shortly before noon Thursday, which set off a flurry of reactions from the community, politicians and lawmakers, and others involved with the occupation.

‘I’m Proud Of My Community’

Harney County Sheriff David Ward appeared on the verge of tears standing before the press and community members after the occupation’s end.

“I’m proud of my community,” he said.

He recalled a particularly emotional and tense part of the morning, when the last militant, David Fry, was preparing to leave the refuge and turn himself over to police.

Like thousands of others, Ward was listening to the live audio feed being broadcast on the Internet.

"I heard ‘hallelujahs’ from a SWAT team,” Ward said. “I heard ‘hallelujahs’ in unison out of an entire building full of people that were watching that with their fingers crossed, hoping to God that they could get people out alive.”

Ward noted newly recognized divisions within the community. He encouraged residents to talk through complex issues at the core of the occupation rather than stay silent.

County Judge Steve Grasty echoed this in an interview with OPB’s Think Out Loud. Grasty said it is important to identify the issues the county can itself change.

And if that change comes, Grasty said it’s not because of the occupation.

“I want the Bundys to get absolutely no credit for what’s happened and what may happen into the future that are positive advances,” Grasty said. “I don’t like armed occupations. I think their strategy was completely wrong.”

Refuge Closed While Investigation Continues

The condition of the refuge is largely unknown beyond images from Internet live streams. OPB reported militants paved new roads, dug a trench and took down fences on the refuge.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing said Thursday the refuge will remain closed for several weeks as a result.

The FBI’s immediate task, Bretzing said, is to determine if any people are left inside the refuge, then comb the area for potential hazards, diagnose government computers, and survey possible damage to tribal artifacts.

“This is your community, and the FBI, along with our other law enforcement partners from across the state, are honored that we could be of service to you,” Bretzing said. “We still have work we need to do — and we continue to ask for your patience as we complete these necessary last tasks.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a statement immediately after the surrender to offer its help to the FBI.

Bretzing also warned potential militia or protesters “with the intent of engaging in illegal activity” to not come to Oregon. Anyone who fit the bill, Bretzing said, would be arrested.

The Pacific Patriots Network, which has played an ambiguous role in the occupation, will not call for more militants to come to Harney County, according to co-founder B.J. Soper. He said members of the PPN will help if asked.

“The refuge issue is over,” Soper said. “As long as the FBI does what they say and deescalates their militarized presence at the airport — which they have no reason not to at this point — there’s no need for people to come to Burns.”

However, Soper did encourage residents to continue speaking up if they feel wronged by the federal government.

<p>One of the organizers of the initial protester, BJ Soper of Redmond, speaks through the loudspeaker.</p>

Amanda Peacher


One of the organizers of the initial protest, B.J. Soper of Redmond, speaks through the loudspeaker.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Bradley W. Parks, Dave Blanchard, Conrad Wilson