Oregon standoff: Why local residents say occupiers need to 'go'

Many locals are sympathetic to the militiamen's cause, but say they have worn out their welcome.

Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian/AP
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward meets with Ammon Bundy at a remote location outside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 7, near Burns, Ore. Three Oregon sheriffs met with the leader of the armed group after residents made it clear they wanted them to go home.

Oregon locals impacted by the armed standoff at a national wildlife refuge on Tuesday told organizer Ammon Bundy that he had made his point and needs to end the protest.

Many locals have been supportive of the issues and concerns surrounding federal land ownership raised by the occupiers, but the residents of nearby Burns, Ore., are saying with increasing vehemence that they are more afraid of possible results of the standoff.

"I've heard so many things I didn't know before," said local resident Jennifer Williams at a community meeting Tuesday. "Now I'm aware."

Her invitation to organizer Ammon Bundy was cordial, but firm.

"Ammon, you need to go home to your family," Ms. Williams said, according to the Associated Press. "Thank you." 

Mr. Bundy did not speak at Tuesday's meeting, but rather listened quietly when some locals began chanting, "Go." At a news conference earlier that day, Bundy had told news reporters that his group wants to see a plan for returning the federal land to locals, and until they achieve that goal, "We're not going anywhere."

Many locals have become frustrated by the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which has turned their rural community of fewer than 3,000 into a conflict zone, albeit a non-violent one. Many of them sympathize with the issues being raised but prioritize the peace of their community.

Streets in Burns have been blocked off, and extra police have turned the town courthouse into a command center. A local school has shut down amid worries about student safety, and some residents have armed themselves in case of a fight.

"It started out calm, but the longer it goes on – you start to hear rumors," Burns resident Brenda Pointere told the AP.

At a previous community meeting, the issue of safety was raised as Burns residents told members of the standoff they were afraid they would be left to clean up a mess if things ended badly.

"I am scared to death," local Shonna McKay told the group, which calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. "Everyone here should know what your agenda is."

Brandon Curtiss, a standoff member from Idaho, said violence was not the goal.

"We are not coming into your town to shoot it up," he said, according to the AP. "We won't fire anything unless we're fired upon."

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward read a statement before Tuesday's meeting to re-establish that law enforcement's goal is for the Bundy group to leave, and Harney County Judge Steve Grasty personally told Bundy he would drive him anywhere as far as Utah if he would end the standoff. The police have arrested two members of the standoff for illegal use of a federal vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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