In a wide ranging interview Tuesday, Harney County Sheriff David Ward urged members of the community to distance themselves from the armed men occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“I think if one person gives them a Snickers bar, they’re going on national media and claiming that the community supports them,” he said.
“If you’re giving them support, you’re just prolonging the situation.”
Ward has called a community meeting Wednesday afternoon. He says he wants to talk directly to local residents, and hear their concerns about the occupation.
The FBI is handling a criminal case against the armed men occupying the refuge since Saturday, and has told Ward that the men will face charges. The sheriff still believes a peaceful resolution to the conflict is possible.
"The bureau has assured me that those at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will at some point face charges," Ward said.
Ward did not give specifics on what charges the men will face.
“They have an opportunity right now to work towards a better solution, and not face further charges,” he said.
Ward said that the FBI is leading the response to the situation at the refuge, while he is focused on the protection of people in the town of Burns and the surrounding communities.
He said contrary to some anonymously sourced news reports, power had not been cut at the refuge headquarters.
to assist with patrols and community safety.
“These folks aren’t here to harass the citizens of Harney County,” Ward said of the outside police. “They’re here to help us maintain a safe and secure environment while we work through the issues at hand.”
Ward said in the months prior to the occupation, Bundy’s group had made a number of people who work for the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service feel uncomfortable, following them or their family members around and photographing their homes.
In a county with a population of fewer than 8,000, most people know or are related to someone who works for the federal government, Ward said.
He said hostility toward federal employees is taking a toll on the entire community.
“Their kids go to school with our kids, they place on sports teams together. They’re just members of the community,“ he said.
He described the economic impact of the occupation, and said that in addition to closing the county's schools and federal buildings, some local businesses had shut down.
"If this goes on any longer, it will have an even greater impact on our tourism and local economy," he said.
Ward said he would make no effort to interfere with media visits to the refuge, but he urged reporters not to inflame the situation.
"Further attention is what these folks are seeking. I think the more attention we give to them, the more rhetoric we're going to hear, or the longer this might draw out."