Thursday, February 11, 2016

It's over... sort of...

The occupation of a peaceful bird sanctuary is finally over after the final hold-out surrendered this morning, but not after some truly fraught and surreal moments. I made the mistake of trying to listen to some of it, since the tweets about it didn't make any sense. I quickly figured out why they didn't make sense. Because the people talking were total nutters.

I listened as a young man, the last hold-out, was talked down to by some ultra-conservative jerkwads who nearly managed to talk him into killing himself by putting on a lesson of what not to say to a suicidal person before an FBI investigator finally managed to wrest the conversation away from them and back into the realm of sanity. The talk ranged from Biblical references, to prison rape, to pizza and marijuana, to UFOs and nuclear leaks. In short, the kid was completely delusional by the end. It sounded like a lack of sleep combined with being surrounded by nutcases and hearing only their points of view. When you are stuck in a bubble like that, it's not good for you.

The next step will be the authorities examining the bird sanctuary as a crime scene. As several references were made to the thing being booby-trapped, I suspect law enforcement will move slowly and carefully in some places. Once it's been determined how much damage the bozos did, then they can be charged for cleaning up the mess and with any other crimes discovered. I hope they didn't do too much damage to archaeological sites, but I fear they may have, based on their own videos of "building roads" in sensitive areas.

I hope the folks that need mental health assistance get the help they need, and I hope the rest of them spend a long, long time occupying a federal building before they are released... if ever.

FBI Statement:

This morning the FBI took into custody the four remaining occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge without incident and without shots fired. Rev. Franklin Graham and Michele Fiore were at the checkpoint to meet the occupiers as they left their encampment.

As we have said since day one, our goal has been to end this illegal occupation peacefully, and we are grateful that we were able to do so today. I want to make it very clear that we will continue to enforce the law with respect to the refuge and other federal properties. Anyone who chooses to travel to Oregon with the intent of engaging in illegal activity will be arrested. Saying that, I want to reassure those Harney County residents who simply visited the refuge or provided food to the occupiers -- we are not looking into those events. We are concerned about those who have criminal, violent intent.

While the occupation is over, there is still quite a bit of work that needs to happen before the refuge can re-open to the public. I want to run through some of that with you now.

Next Steps

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge remains closed, and it will remain closed for some number of weeks. During this time, law enforcement will continue to man checkpoints at the edge of the refuge to maintain the security of this crime scene.

Most immediately, FBI agents are inspecting and securing the buildings and any other areas of concern on the refuge to ensure that no one else is hiding. This process will take some number of hours.

Following that tactical clearing of the refuge, a team of FBI Special Agent Bomb Technicians, detectives with the Oregon State Police Arson/Explosives Unit, and bomb technicians from the Portland Police Bureau and Oregon Air National Guard will methodically work their way through the property to locate and mitigate any explosive-related hazards. This process could take several days.

Once the refuge is cleared of any hazards, the FBI's Evidence Response Teams (ERT) will enter to document and collect evidence related to potential crimes committed during the occupation. In addition, FBI forensic examiners from the Northwest Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory will work to recover and process computers and electronic devices. It will likely be several weeks before the evidence teams complete their work on the refuge, and it will likely be a number of months before the forensic examiners complete their analysis.

At the same time, the FBI is deploying experts with its Art Crime Team to work on the refuge. These agents are specially-trained in cultural property investigations. They will be responsible for working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Burns Paiute Tribe to identify and document damage to the tribe's artifacts and sacred burial grounds.

They will start with an archeological field assessment to determine any potential violations of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Protection Act (NAGPRA) and the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). This work will likely take a number of weeks to complete.

As the FBI works through each of these investigative processes, we will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as to how and when we will be able to return control of the refuge to that agency.

Closing Thoughts

Over the course of the last month, the people of Harney County have lived through an experience that is both highly emotional and physically exhausting. We have seen the occupiers and their outside supporters try to drive deep divisions between those who live and work here. We have seen some residents leave their homes, fearing violence against their families. We have seen the confusion, concern and trouble that the occupiers' actions have caused for this community.

This series of events has been beyond difficult for Harney County families. But, in the time I have been here, I have also seen the deep love that you have for this place you call home... love for the people, the land, and the way of life that makes Harney County so special. This passion for everything good about Harney County is what will help heal the community after this incident.

This is your community, and the FBI, along with our other law enforcement partners from across the state, are honored that we could be of service to you. We still have work we need to do -- and we continue to ask for your patience as we complete these necessary last tasks. We will do everything we can to return the refuge to its normal operations as soon as possible.

In particular, we know that the people of the Burns Paiute Tribe have specific concerns about the potential desecration of their ancestral lands and artifacts dating back thousands of years. As we complete the necessary safety checks and process the crime scene, we will work with the tribal members to ensure that our work remains sensitive to their historical and cultural concerns.

In closing, I want to thank Sheriff Ward for all of his hard work. I have never met a man who cares more about the people he serves... who cares more for the community in which he lives. No matter how you feel about the Hammonds or the situation at the refuge or the role that we have played here, Sheriff Ward has done exactly what he has promised to do since this all started back in November. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that the people he serves are safe, that they are heard, and that they can find a path back to normalcy.

Thank you.