By Jimmy Urquhart
BURNS, Ore. (Reuters) – The four holdouts in an armed protest at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon surrendered on Thursday, with the last occupier repeatedly threatening suicide during an intense phone call with mediators before he finally walked out, ending the 41-day standoff with the FBI.
David Fry, 27, had stayed behind for more than an hour and told supporters by phone he had not agreed with the other three to leave. The call was broadcast live on an audio feed posted on the Internet.
“I’m actually pointing a gun at my head. I’m tired of living,” Fry said during the phone call. He later added, “Until you address my grievances, you’re probably going to have to watch me be killed, or kill myself.”
Fry was alternately defiant and distraught during the rambling final call, veering from rants about the federal government to his thoughts on UFOs. He surrendered after taking a final cigarette and cookie and asking his mediators to shout “hallelujah.”
Authorities could be heard over the phone line telling him to put his hands up before the call disconnected. Portland’s KGW television later showed a caravan of sport utility vehicles escorted by police driving out of the refuge in remote eastern Oregon.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement the final four occupiers had surrendered and face charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers, along with 12 others previously arrested.
“The occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge has been a long and traumatic episode for the citizens of Harney County and the members of the Burns Paiute tribe,” U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said in the statement. “It is a time for healing, reconciliation amongst neighbors and friends, and allowing for life to get back to normal.”
Williams said now that all of the protesters had been taken into custody, law enforcement officials would “assess the crime scene and damage to the refuge and tribal artifacts.”
CLIVEN BUNDY ARRESTED
The takeover at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which began on Jan. 2, was sparked by the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal property in the vicinity of the refuge.
The standoff, which was originally led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, came to a head after the arrest on Wednesday in Portland of their father, Cliven Bundy. On Thursday he was charged with conspiracy, assault on a federal officer and obstruction of justice in connection with a separate 2014 standoff on federal land near his Nevada ranch.
The Malheur occupation had also been a protest against federal control over millions of acres public land in the West.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy had been arrested in January along with nine other protesters on a snow-covered roadside where a spokesman for the group, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot dead. A 12th member of the group surrendered to police in Arizona.
After Cliven Bundy’s arrest, three of four remaining occupiers surrendered to the FBI at the urging of Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore and Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham. Fiore and Franklin Graham both traveled to the site.
Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada, and married couple Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, of Riggins, Idaho, surrendered peacefully, according to the webcast of a phone call with the protesters.
The protesters narrated the surrender, with the married Andersons described as emerging with their hands up, holding hands.
Fry arrived at the occupation within the first week, and told Oregon Public Broadcasting that he was inspired by Finicum. Fry emerged as one of the most outspoken protesters, due primarily to frequent, often angry rants on social media.
The skinny, bespectacled Ohio native from a military family has also expressed outrage when dealing with what appear to be minor criminal offenses in his past. In a YouTube video from September, Fry can be heard saying he refused to pay fines “for smoking marijuana on a river and not wearing a life jacket,” and then appears to set fire to a debt collection notice.
Fry’s father told Oregon Public Broadcasting that his son has also screamed at a police officer who had pulled him over for broken taillights.
The elder Fry said his son was bullied in high school because of his Japanese heritage, and that he worked odd jobs at his father’s dental office instead of following his father and brother into the U.S. Marines.
(Additional reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Barbara Goldberg and Joseph Ax in New York, Julia Edwards in Washington, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sara Catania, Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)
Photo: Cliven Bundy is pictured in this undated booking handout image provided by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via Reuters