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Leader of Oregon militia turns down safety offer; Idaho group arrives to prevent 'Waco-style' escalation

The leader of the Oregon militia said he worries about an escalation similar to one that ended a standoff 22 years ago between federal agents and religious sect leader David Koresh.
By Ed Adamczyk and Doug G. Ware   |   Updated Jan. 8, 2016 at 11:03 PM
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HARNEY COUNTY, Ore., Jan. 8 (UPI) -- A constitutional rights militia from Idaho said it traveled to southeastern Oregon Friday to lend assistance to a similarly-styled group that's been occupying a federal wildlife refuge there for a week now -- with the intention of preventing a potential scenario like the one that killed dozens during the fiery conclusion of the infamous 1993 siege in Waco, Texas.

The group, called 3% of Idaho, said it has arrived to "secure the perimeter" to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where the occupation has been going since Jan. 2.

A small, armed militia led by Ammon Bundy took the refuge to protest the punishment of two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of arson in 2012 under a domestic terrorism law.

Bundy said his group also took the refuge to draw attention to a demand that the federal government turn over ownership of its land to local control.

"They just keep an eye on everything that is going on," Bundy said of the Idaho group's arrival, adding that he worries about an escalation similar to the Texas standoff 22 years ago between federal agents and religious sect leader David Koresh.

Koresh, who claimed to be a messiah, kept dozens of followers inside a compound near Waco, Texas, for 51 days after refusing search and arrest warrants by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which suspected weapons violations had been committed on the property. A gun battle erupted on day one, killing four agents and six of Koresh's followers.

On April 19, 1993, FBI agents tried to force a conclusion to the standoff by firing tear gas into the compound. Moments later, flames erupted from the house and burned down the entire compound, killing 76 people -- including several young women and children, as well as Koresh. A subsequent government investigation concluded seven years later that Koresh's people set the fire.

Brandon Curtiss, the president of the 3% of Idaho, would not specify in an interview with The Oregonian exactly how many people he sent, though he did say he himself was on his way to the refuge.

Earlier Friday, Bundy told reporters that he had temporarily refused an offer from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward for safe passage out of the county.

"We will take that offer, but not yet," Bundy said. "We will go out of this state and out of this county as free men."

Bundy and Sheriff Ward met face-to-face for the first time on Thursday, speaking for a few minutes at an intersection of two roads near the refuge.

"I'm here because the citizens of Harney County have asked me to come out and ask you folks to peacefully leave," Ward said to Bundy during the meet, advising him to "go back and kick it around with your folks."

Bundy replied by attempting to engage Ward in a discussion about the group's grievances, saying, "We're here for the people of Harney County. We're here because people were being ignored. Yet, sheriff, you would not address those concerns. We're getting ignored again."

Ward answered, "I didn't come here to argue."

After a dialogue of less than 10 minutes, Ward and Bundy shook hands and left -- Bundy back to the refuge and Ward to a town hall in Diamond, Ore., where he met with about 50 citizens.

Ward said Friday he doesn't have any present plans to communicate with Bundy further.

"During this morning's press conference, the people on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge made it clear that they have no intention of honoring the sheriff's request to leave. Because of that, there are no planned meetings or calls at this time. However, the sheriff is keeping all options open," the Harney County Sheriff's Office said on its Facebook page.

Another town hall meeting was called by a group calling itself the Harney County Committee of Safety Friday night in Burns, a town located about 30 miles north of the refuge.

The committee is a citizens-rights group that formed to advocate grievances against the government. Committee members specified during Friday's meeting that it doesn't speak for Bundy or his group, according to Oregonian reporter Ian Kullgren.

"This is about bringing Harney county together," Committee of Safety member Rick Habein reportedly said at the meeting.

"What this meeting here tonight is all about is basically the economic future of Harney County and how we can make it better," added committee member Tim Smith, according to an Oregonion photojournalist at the meeting.

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