BURNS, Ore. » A group of armed men from around the Pacific Northwest who arrived at a wildlife refuge this morning left several hours later after people leading an occupation of the refuge told them they weren’t needed.
Todd MacFarlane, a Utah lawyer acting as a mediator, said occupation leader Ammon Bundy and others were concerned about the perception the armed visitors conveyed.
“This was the last thing in the world they wanted to see happen,” MacFarlane told The Oregonian.
Bundy didn’t request the presence of the Pacific Patriot Network, he said, and has “tried to put out the word: ‘We don’t need you.’”
The network, a consortium of groups from Oregon, Washington and Idaho, arrived at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge midmorning in a convoy of about 18 vehicles, carrying rifles and handguns and dressed in military attire and bulletproof vests.
Some of the men told journalists they were there to help with security for the group that has occupied the headquarters of the refuge since Jan. 2.
Their leader, Brandon Curtiss, said the group came to “de-escalate” the situation by providing security for those inside and outside the compound.
One of the original occupiers of the refuge, LaVoy Finicum, said the group appreciates the Pacific Patriot Network’s help, but “we want the long guns put away.”
Curtiss said the new group is not staying inside the refuge, but are patrolling the perimeter.
He said he intends to meet with standoff organizers as well as local public officials and law enforcement to come to a “peaceful resolution.”
“We are not the militia, and we are not a militia,” he said, adding that he “they’re here for everybody’s safety, on both sides.”
Bundy has repeatedly rejected calls to leave buildings at the refuge despite pleas from the county sheriff, from many local residents and from Oregon’s governor, among others.
On Saturday, militants drove government-owned vehicles and heavy equipment around the compound, saying the trucks and backhoes now belong to the local community. They also covered the national refuge sign with a new sign saying: “Harney County Resource Center” in white block letters over a blue background.
The Harney County Joint Information Center put out a statement on Saturday, saying they continue to work for a peaceful solution.
“The FBI’s investigation is ongoing so it would not be appropriate to provide details at this time,” the statement said.
The local school district announced there would be classes on Monday, after a week without school because of safety concerns.