An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

Malheur Refuge Occupation Day 40: 4 Things To Know

By Bryan M. Vance (OPB)
Portland, Oregon Feb. 10, 2016 3:51 p.m.

The remaining four armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, have been occupying the site on their own for at least two weeks. That's since the last week of January, when other occupiers were arrested outside the refuge boundary. The site has been held by armed militants since Jan. 2.

Law enforcement officials have enforced a pronounced barrier around the refuge as negotiations with the four remaining militants have stalled several times. The four  — David Fry,  Sean Anderson, Sandra Lynn Pfeifer Anderson, and Jeff Wayne Banta — have had sparse contact with the media over the past two weeks.


Meanwhile, federal prosecutors' case against the 16 people indicted in connection with the occupation, including the four still at the refuge, continues to move forward in federal court. As the occupation enters its 40th day, here's what you need to know:

Freedom of speech: The ACLU of Oregon is arguing that one of the 16 people indicted by federal authorities in relation to the armed occupation of the Malheur refuge is being targeted because of polarizing statements. OPB's Conrad Wilson reported Tuesday that the Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union came out in support of the pretrial release of Pete Santilli, an Ohio Internet talk show host who was arrested on Jan. 26 along with occupation leaders, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy.

Pete Santilli, an Internet radio host and strong advocate of the armed occupation near Burns, Oregon, led a demonstration outside the FBI's makeshift headquarters there.

Pete Santilli, an Internet radio host and strong advocate of the armed occupation near Burns, Oregon, led a demonstration outside the FBI's makeshift headquarters there.

Conrad Wilson / OPB

Last week, a judge affirmed an earlier decision to keep Santilli in jail, ruling some of his statements posed a risk to the community and law enforcement.

“We can all agree that we should not hold members of the media or protesters in jail without bail simply because they have shocking or abhorrent views,” wrote Mat dos Santos,  legal director of the Oregon ACLU chapter. “These are principles that we must stand by, even when we disagree with the message of the speaker.”

Santilli broadcast hundreds of hours of live footage from the refuge and around Harney County during the early weeks of the occupation. That footage is being used to help federal authorities make their case against the militants. But Santilli's court-appointed attorney, and now the ACLU, say the he is an independent journalist, and not a member of the self-styled militia behind the occupation.


Investigation, please: Last month, Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer suggested that state and federal government should consider meeting some of the militants' demands. Those remarks prompted several citizen complaints, according to the Blue Mountain Eagle, and now the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association is responding to those complaints with an investigation into Palmer's conduct.

"What the Association will do is look at all the facts: We’ll gather evidence and information, and then if we think there is a violation of the [Oregon State Sheriffs' Association] bylaws or ethics, then we would take whatever would be the appropriate action,” Association President Brian Wolfe, sheriff of Malheur County, told the Blue Mountain Eagle.

Boyd Britton serves as a commissioner in Grant County, Oregon.

Boyd Britton serves as a commissioner in Grant County, Oregon.

Amanda Peacher / OPB

Not in my backyard: Meanwhile, another group has taken issue with Palmer's statements: Fellow leaders of Grant County, Oregon. Officials in the county are considering a resolution officially condemning the occupation of the refuge in neighboring Harney County. That comes in direct response to Palmer's remarks last month. Those remarks prompted some members of the occupation to suggest taking their cause to Grant County.

County officials held a public meeting Wednesday. Members of the community voiced their concerns about the ongoing occupation in the neighboring county, and while most voiced support for the resolution, one resident in particular took up issue with the wording of it.

As OPB's Amanda Peacher reports, the citizen was concerned that anyone with a gun could be described as a militant. County commissioners didn't make a decision on the resolution, but did say one could come as early as next week.

'Anyone can complain about anything':  Oregon State Bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh responded that way to an investigation into complaints lodged against the attorneys representing militant leader Ammon Bundy. A story reported by OPB last week raised possible ethical violations with the way Eugene-based Arnold Law Firm acquired Bundy as a client.

At issue is whether the attorneys violated a statute of the Oregon Bar's rule, specifically section 7.3, which prohibits attorneys from soliciting clients, including in person. As OPB previously reported, attorneys with the firm visited militants at the refuge early on in the occupation. Attorneys told OPB they offered pro bono legal advice. When Bundy was arrested, he retained the firm as his representation.

In response to the complaints and OPB's reporting Mike Arnold, head of the firm, said "We acted entirely consistently with what the rules of professional conduct both permit and encourage." The Oregon State Bar has said that at this stage, it hasn't found anything worthy of forwarding to a disciplinary counsel's office.

Follow the latest news on the ongoing occupation of the Malheur refuge in eastern Oregon.