For 26 days, armed occupiers have been holed up in a lonely federal wildlife refuge headquarters in rural Oregon.
Dismissing the exhortations of the governor, ignoring the inconveniences of the residents, the occupiers stood their ground, saying they were protesting federal land policies.
The government waited patiently for an opportunity to end the situation peacefully. A break came Tuesday night when Ammon Bundy, the group’s leader, was arrested along with six others. An eighth person turned himself in. The group’s spokesman was killed.
Here’s a look at what happened — and what happens next:
Are protesters still at the wildlife refuge?
Yes, it appears so, though it’s unclear how many.
Numbers have fluctuated since the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters began in early January.
CNN’s Sara Sidner, who visited the refuge earlier this month, said she saw dozens of people there, mostly men.
After Tuesday’s arrests, the usually outspoken group didn’t specify how many remain. Gov. Kate Brown called for patience while officials work toward a “swift and peaceful resolution.”
What do the occupiers plan to do next?
Occupiers who remained Wednesday morning told journalist John Sepulvado — reporting from inside the refuge but outside the headquarters — that they planned to stay and were prepared to die.
“I just spoke to the new leaders — including Jason Patrick — They say that 5-6 (people) had a meeting, and by consensus they decided to stay,” Sepulvado wrote Wednesday morning on Twitter.
Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, had said he and others were prepared to stay in the building for days, weeks or months if necessary. They have enough food and other supplies, he said, to see them through for a long time.
The younger Bundy repeatedly warned that the armed occupiers don’t intend to harm anyone but said that if law enforcement or others try to force them from the building, they would defend themselves.
On Tuesday, the group said on its unverified Facebook page that it was “at a heightened level of alert” and asked for prayers.
Why did they occupy the refuge in the first place?
When the group initially occupied the remote outpost about 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, its goals seemed hazy.
Bundy said the occupiers essentially want two things.
First, they want the federal government to relinquish control of the wildlife refuge building so “people can reclaim their resources,” he told CNN.
And second, they want a lighter prison sentence for Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, ranchers who were convicted in 2012 of committing arson on federal lands in Oregon.
Bundy has said the Hammonds’ case illustrates the government’s “abuse” of power, even though the Hammonds themselves said the occupiers don’t speak for them.
What happened Tuesday night?
Protest leaders were on their way to a community meeting set up by local residents when authorities pulled them over, according to The Oregonian.
Oregon State Police troopers and the FBI arrested them during a traffic stop about 20 miles north of Burns on U.S. 395.
A law enforcement official told CNN that authorities pulled over two vehicles. Everyone obeyed orders to surrender except two people: LaVoy Finicum and Bundy’s brother, Ryan Bundy, the official said.
Shots were fired, but it’s not known who fired first, the official said. Ryan Bundy was injured, and Finicum died, the official said.
Two others affiliated with the group were arrested in separate incidents, and another turned himself in.
What do we know about Finicum?
Finicum was one of the most outspoken occupiers. Earlier this month, he told CNN he’d rather be killed than arrested.
“There’s no way I’m going to sit in a concrete cell where I can’t see the stars and roll out my bedroll on the ground,” he told CNN. “That’s just not going to happen. I want to be able to get up in the morning and throw my saddle on my horse and go check on my cows. It’s OK. I’ve lived a good life. God’s been gracious to me.”
Finicum, a rancher who lived in the Kaibab Plateau area of northern Arizona, publicly stated he was no longer paying federal grazing fees. He called the fees “extortion,” The Arizona Republic reported this month.
He’d appeared at multiple press conferences at the refuge.
A Facebook post on the Bundy Ranch page said that Finicum had his hands up and was shot three times. Michele Fiore, a Nevada assemblywoman and Bundy family supporter, also asserted that’s what happened. Fiore told The Oregonian that Ammon Bundy called his wife from the back of a police car Tuesday night and told her that Finicum was cooperating with police when he was shot, the paper reported.
Authorities told CNN they are not commenting on the allegations.
Why was the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge chosen?
Protesters broke into the refuge on January 2 after a rally in support of the Hammonds. “This refuge — it has been destructive to the people of the county and to the people of the area,” Bundy said.
He said the refuge has taken over the space of 100 ranches since the early 1900s. “They are continuing to expand the refuge at the expense of the ranchers and miners,” he said.
CNN has not independently corroborated Bundy’s assertions.
No employees were inside the building when protesters broke in, officials said.
How is the community reacting?
Community reaction to the occupiers has been mixed.
Many local folks have said they are upset about what has happened to the Hammonds, but the vast majority raised their hands when asked at a community meeting if they wanted the group to leave and the situation to end peacefully.
A few ranchers have supported the group, bringing protesters food.
Leaders of the Burns Paiute tribe called the occupiers a “bunch of bullies and little criminals” and asked them to leave.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, who has been outspoken about the Bundys, released a statement after the arrests, saying, “I am relieved this situation is coming to an end, however, I am saddened by the loss of life. I hope and pray that those who remain at the Refuge will stand down peacefully.”
What happens next?
That depends on whether the rest of the occupiers leave.
Keeping an eye on them apparently hasn’t been cheap. The price tag on the occupation so far is costing Oregon about $100,000 a week, the governor said. She wants reimbursement from the federal government for those mounting costs.
Then there’s the legal process. All eight people arrested Tuesday face a federal felony charge relating to their occupation of the refuge: conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats, authorities said. It’s unclear when they’ll make their first court appearances.
Also unclear is how exactly the arrests unfolded, and who fired first.
“The situation in Harney County continues to be the subject of a federal investigation that is in progress. My highest priority is the safety of all Oregonians and their communities,” the governor said in a statement.