Militia, environmentalists face off at Malheur briefing

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BURNS, Ore. (KOIN) — As the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge enters its third week, the daily media briefing devolved into a shouting match between the militia supporters and environmental activists.

Shortly after Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum finished his briefing by ignoring a series of questions from reporters, an environmental activist stepped to their microphone to make the case for the refuge.

An environmental activist speaks to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after the militia finished their briefing, Jan. 18, 2016 (KOIN)

“I don’t want American losing their right to visit public land,” Candy Henderson said. She identified herself as a 64-year-old woman from Walla Walla who is on her way to Houston for cancer treatment, but she felt compelled to stop at Burns and make her views known.

The federal government has the right to buy land, she said. If they couldn’t, “How we gonna give back Alaska to the Russians? How we gonna give back Louisiana to the French?”

She wants the refuge kept in federal hands.

“I want to go to Mt. Rushmore again, I want to go to the National forests and the National Parklands,” Henderson said.

Right-wing online talk show host Pete Santilli, who has been embedded with the militia since before the occupation began, began shouting at people standing behind the woman. He wanted to know if they were FBI informants.

The man, another environmental activist, previously held a sign that read, “Ideas, not guns.”

“Do you remember what I said to you about that sign?” Santilli shouted. “Don’t bring a butter knife to a gun fight.”

The man told Santilli he should take lessons from Finicum.

      About the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum addresses the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as self-described extremist Jon Ritzheimer stands behind him, Jan. 18, 2016 (KOIN)

For his part, Finicum repeatedly stated, “We’re not anti-government, we’re not anti-federal government.” He noted there are real responsibilities the federal government has.

But holding this land, he said, is not one of them.

He refused to respond to a question about the state of Oregon — not Harney County — who owns the land. And he ignored a question about whether he’s retained legal counsel.

“You know,” Finicum said, “it’s almost like a western movie when you look at Burns. You’ve got a judge, you’ve got a sheriff. They’re in cahoots.”

He then said other locations have invited them to hold community meetings, but he refused to say exactly where or when.

However, he did say there will be a “signing ceremony” at 4 p.m. Friday with ranchers from Harney County and New Mexico, although the significance of the signing ceremony was not explained.

Finicum also confirmed the Pacific Patriot Network — another armed group — is camping nearby. He dismissed reports that the PPN asked them to leave and said he doesn’t think they gave the militia articles of resolution.

“They have been very supportive. We appreciate their support.  It’s their presence on the back side that makes us feel safe,” Finicum said.County resident wants meeting without militia

Meanwhile, Vanessa Leathers-King said county residents would like a meeting of their own. She said she’s undecided about the takeover but organized a protest in Burns against Harney County for prohibiting citizens from using county buildings.

“Ammon Bundy said he wanted to be at the meeting to discuss his exit plan.  We are fine with that not happening,” Leathers-King said, “but we still want to be able to have a meeting.”

The Oregon State Police confirmed there will be a community meeting at 7 p.m.Tuesday at the high school in Burns.

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