BURNS, Ore. — The armed occupation of a rural wildlife refuge ended peacefully yesterday after 41 days as the last four anti-government activists surrendered to FBI agents, following a dramatic and emotional hour-long negotiation with the final holdout broadcast live on YouTube.
After repeatedly threatening to shoot himself, complaining that he couldn’t get marijuana, and ranting about UFOs, drone strikes in Pakistan, leaking nuclear plants and the government “chemically mutating people,” the last occupier, David Fry, 27, lit a cigarette, shouted “Hallelujah” and walked out of his barricaded encampment into FBI custody.
“I don’t want to be put behind bars,” he said at one point. “I don’t want to take that risk. . . . I didn’t kill anybody.”
The FBI said it arrested Fry without incident about 11 a.m. Earlier, agents arrested Sandy Anderson, 48, of Idaho; her husband, Sean Anderson, 47; and Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada. They were taken to Portland to face federal charges.
Fry’s surrender, which had an audience of more than 30,000 people listening live, capped an extraordinary 18 hours in which America’s growing and extreme anti-government movement morphed into something that more closely resembled a strange and nerve-racking reality TV show.
And it brought an end to a bitter, five-week standoff at the snowy Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in the remote high desert of eastern Oregon, that drew international attention to the anti-government extremist movement and long-simmering anger over federal land-management policies in the American West.
Fry and the three others were all that remained of the occupation since shortly after authorities arrested the group’s leaders on Jan. 26 and, in the same encounter, fatally shot LaVoy Finicum, who had become a spokesman for the occupiers.
Since then, the four remaining occupants stayed in communication with the outside world via videos and phone calls in which they likened themselves to the revolutionaries who founded the nation.
The final four spent about five hours Wednesday evening on a phone call, also carried live on YouTube to more than 60,000 listeners, and engaged in emotional and sometimes hysterical negotiations involving evangelist Franklin Graham and Michele Fiore, a fiery Nevada state legislator with a history of controversial statements.
During the phone call, the four alternatively expressed their willingness to die for their cause and their openness to surrender. They likened themselves to Mel Gibson’s character in the movie “Braveheart.” The occupiers had asked for Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, to negotiate on their behalf.
Another person apparently hoping to head to the refuge was stopped before he could make it very far. On Wednesday night, federal agents arrested Cliven Bundy, father of the group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, and himself a veteran of armed standoffs with federal agents, as he arrived in Portland.