By Peter Henderson
The leader of a month-long armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in the US state of Oregon has urged remaining protesters to leave the site and go home, a day after his arrest and the death of a supporter.
Ammon Bundy, who was taken into custody with several members of his group at a traffic stop north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, urged federal authorities to let his comrades leave the compound without being prosecuted.
"To those remaining 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. ... Please go home," Bundy said in a statement read by his lawyer, Michael Arnold, following a court hearing on Wednesday (local time).
Jason Patrick, who remained at the refuge following Bundy's arrest on Tuesday, told Reuters by phone that some protesters were leaving on Wednesday afternoon through checkpoints set up by authorities, but rejected the word "surrender".
"I don't know what surrendering looks like," Patrick said. "They're walking through the checkpoint and going home. That's what I've heard unless I'm being lied to."
He added: "It's getting emptier over time, some people leaving, some people still there holding on to what they're holding on to."
Law enforcement surrounded the refuge and blocked off access roads on Tuesday evening, after Bundy and his group were taken into custody at a traffic stop.
Citing the investigation, authorities declined to say what led to the fatal shooting during that confrontation of a member of Bundy's group, identified by activists as Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers.
Bundy's brother Ryan was wounded in the incident.
The arrested protesters were each charged in US District Court in Portland with conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties.
During a brief hearing on Wednesday afternoon, the defendants were ordered held without bail until a detention hearing set for Friday.
The Malheur takeover, which started on January 2 with at least a dozen armed men, was a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres in the West.
At a news conference earlier in the day, state and federal authorities pleaded with the remaining occupiers to quit their protest, saying they were free to leave.
"Let me be clear: It is the actions and choices of the armed occupiers of the refuge that have led us to where we are today," said Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Portland. "They had ample opportunity to leave the refuge peacefully and as the FBI and our partners have clearly demonstrated, actions are not without consequences."
Federal officials say they had probable cause to arrest Finicum, who told NBC News earlier this month that he would rather die than be detained.
On Wednesday morning, an occupier posted what appeared to be a live feed from the refuge on a YouTube page called "DefendYourBase". In it, a few occupiers, some dressed in camouflage, were seen in front of what appeared to be a heavy-duty 320D excavator, at least two of them carrying firearms.
One man spoke on a phone with a person he identified as his mother and offered her reassurance.
"If I die, I died for my country, I died a free man," he said. "That's how I want to die." The man added that his group had "food and everything for the long haul".