CRANE, Ore., Jan. 8 (UPI) — The leader of a militia occupying federal lands in Oregon met with a law enforcement official for the first time since the beginning of the protest.
Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, leader of the group of about 20 who occupied the vacant Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2, and Harney County, Ore., Sheriff David Ward, spoke briefly at an intersection of two roads near the refuge Thursday.
Bundy’s group occupied the federal facility to protest the imprisonment of two ranchers convicted of setting fires on government land and to draw attention to a demand that the federal government cede ownership of land to local control.
Ward brought other local sheriffs and media representatives. Bundy arrived with a small group, evidently a security detail, which included self-styled Montana militiaman Ryan Payne.
Ward offered a “safe escort” from the refuge to the protesters.
“I’m here because the citizens of Harney County have asked me to come out and ask you folks to peacefully leave,” Ward said, suggesting Bundy “go back and kick it around with your folks.”
Bundy attempted to engage the sheriff in discussion of 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 replied, “I didn’t come here to argue.”
After a dialogue of less than 10 minutes, Ward and Bundy shook hands and left, Bundy to the refuge and Ward to a town hall in Diamond, Ore., where he met with about 50 citizens.
Ward said he observed at a community meeting Wednesday support for asking the protesters to leave, prompting the face-to-face meeting with Bundy.
While some in the Oregon community may agree with the group’s opposition to federal control of land, they “wanted [the protesters] to go home,” resentful of outsiders arriving in their community, he said, adding, “You don’t come here from elsewhere to tell us how we’re going to live our lives.”