BURNS , Ore., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The man who led the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon for more than three weeks, and was arrested there Tuesday, has instructed followers still at the bird sanctuary to leave the property and go home.
Ammon Bundy was among eight people arrested by authorities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Tuesday evening, in an event that also saw a gun battle and one of the militia's members killed.
For weeks, the group repeatedly refused to leave the property -- but that changed with Bundy's request Wednesday.
"I'm asking the federal government to allow the people at the refuge to go home without being prosecuted," Bundy said in a statement delivered by his lawyer, Mike Arnold. "To those at the refuge, I love you. Let us take this fight from here. Please stand down. Please stand down. Go home and hug your families."
Earlier Wednesday, the FBI ordered those remaining to leave but it wasn't until word came from Bundy that some believed the last holdouts would actually relinquish control of the refuge.
However, that may not be a given, either. One armed militia member was heard urging supporters at the refuge to kill any law enforcement officer who attempts to block protesters' entry Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"There are no laws in this United States now! This is a free-for-all Armageddon!" the man said, adding that if "they stop you from getting here, kill them!"
"What you gonna do, what you gonna do when the militia comes after you, FBI?" another protester sarcastically asked.
"Let me be clear: It is the actions and choices of the armed occupiers of the refuge that has led us to where we are today....actions are not without consequences," an FBI representative said at a news conference Wednesday.
Those arrested are being charged with felony conspiracy, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon said.
Roadblocks were installed around the property on Wednesday as part of a "containment" operation, authorities said. They added that any unauthorized people entering or leaving the refuge would be arrested.
According to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday, Bundy intended for the compound to become the permanent headquarters of anti-government "patriots" from across the United States. Such an establishment would have kept the group at the refuge for years, Bundy reportedly said.
The anti-government activists began their occupation of the refuge on Jan. 2 to protest the government's prosecution of the head of an Oregon ranching family, 73-year-old Dwight Hammond, and his son, 46-year-old Steven Hammond, who were each convicted in 2012 of arson for setting a fire that burned grass on public land.
The Hammonds had already served several months in prison before the U.S. Attorney General's office charged them for the same offense under a federal anti-terrorism law and sentenced them to an additional five years in prison.
The Hammonds turned themselves in to authorities on Jan. 4.
Wednesday's revelations followed a gun fight between authorities and militia members near the Malheur refuge the day before -- which started when police attempted to pull over a convoy of vehicles belonging to Bundy's group.
A police spokesman said all vehicles obeyed the order, except one, which contained Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum. The vehicle was fired upon and its occupants returned fire, officials said -- although it is unclear who fired first.
The group's spokesman, Finicum, was killed and Ryan Bundy, Ammon's brother, was wounded.
The others arrested included Ryan W. Payne, 32, Brian Cavalier, 44, and Shawna J. Cox, 59. The group was charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers, a felony.
Authorities did not immediately overrun the compound after its occupation, reportedly fearing a loss of life similar to that in 1993, when a siege at the religious Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas, ended with a gun battle and a massive fire that destroyed the compound.
Four federal authorities and 82 civilians, many of them women and children, died.