By Curtis Skinner and Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) – One protester was shot dead and eight others were arrested on Tuesday after authorities confronted members of an armed group that has staged a month-long occupation of a federal wildlife reserve in Oregon, activists and officials said.
The FBI said gunshots rang out after officers stopped a car carrying protest leader Ammon Bundy and others near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Activists said Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, was killed.
FBI agents were setting up a perimeter on Tuesday night around the wildlife refuge, where some people were still holding out, continuing their protest against federal control of large tracts of the country, a law enforcement official told Reuters.
One of the remaining occupiers, Jason Patrick, told Reuters by phone they would stay until the “redress of grievances”.
“I’ve heard ‘peaceful resolution’ for weeks now and now there’s a cowboy who is my friend who is dead – so prepare for the peaceful resolution,” Patrick said.
The takeover at Malheur that started Jan. 2 was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over the U.S. government’s control of millions of acres of territory in the west. Protesters say they are defending the Constitution.
Federal officials said they had probable cause to arrest Finicum, who told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be detained.
Protest leader Ammon Bundy and four other senior members were taken into custody following the confrontation along Highway 395, near the reserve in northeast Oregon around 4:25 p.m. local time (0025 GMT), the FBI said.
A sixth person was arrested by Oregon State Police in Burns, Oregon, about 1 1/2 hours later. The FBI said a seventh person was later arrested, 50-year-old Peter Santilli, a journalist who livestreamed events at the refuge.
The FBI said they also arrested an eighth person in Peoria, Arizona, in relation to the occupation.
All of those arrested face federal charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said.
The protester Patrick likened Finicum’s death to the killing of Tamir Rice, an unarmed 12-year-old African American boy fatally shot by police outside a Cleveland recreation center in 2014. The officers were not charged.
“The government can kill who they want for whatever reason they want with impunity,” Patrick said.
Asked how the occupiers would respond to law enforcement entering the refuge he did not indicate a clear plan.
“I don’t know what to tell you but if somebody saying ‘peaceful resolution’ comes in and points guns at me…” he said before trailing off.
The Oregonian reported that Bundy had been en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker, when authorities stopped his vehicle.
The newspaper said 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother, suffered a minor gunshot wound.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington, Jonathan Allen in New York and Victoria Cavaliere in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Sara Catania and Andrew Heavens)