One of the leaders of the armed group that took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon 11 days ago says it will host a community meeting Friday to explain their position and announce when they will be leaving, local media report.
The announcement Tuesday by LaVoy Finicum, a rancher from Arizona, comes against a backdrop of growing resentment among residents of Burns, Ore., to the presence of the group, which arrived Jan. 2.
Finicum called the community meeting for Friday at 7 p.m. PST to explain why the occupiers took over the federal refuge center and when they will be leaving, KTVZ-TV reports. There were no signs, however, of an imminent departure.
“I think there should be a dialogue,” Finicum, wearing a firearm and camouflage fatigues, told reporters Tuesday, The Oregonian reports. It was not immediately clear where the meeting would be held.
The armed group, led by Ammon Bundy, son of a Nevada rancher who has been in a longstanding battle with federal authorities over grazing rights, initially arrived in Burns to show support for two ranchers convicted of burning public land. The group, however, then took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge buildings and refused to leave, despite insistent appeals by Harney County Sheriff David Ward.
The group not only has refused to budge, it has renamed the center the “Harney County Resource Center,” to underscore the call for local, not federal, control of the land.
Many local residents have grown increasingly unhappy with the takeover by the out-of-state group, however, and expressed their frustration at a community meeting Tuesday night.
“There is an hourglass, and the fact is that time is running out,” Sheriff Ward told local residents.
At a similar meeting on Monday, a 15-year-old high school freshman got a standing ovation when she said the group should leave.
“And I just want them to go home so I can feel safe and I can feel like it is home again,” a tearful Ashlie Presley said, referring to the armed men, according to The Associated Press.
“I shouldn’t have to be scared, none of us in Harney County should have to be scared in our own hometown,” she said.
A lawyer for the Dwight and Steven Hammond, whose conviction for arson triggered the initial protest, said the armed group does not speak for the Hammond family.
SOURCE: USA Today – Doug Stanglin