When the song ends, the man addresses the video camera that has been live streaming events from the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge throughout the tumultuous past few days.
“We want to live,” he says. “… We want to go home peacefully, safely. We’re free Americans. This isn’t Nazi Germany. We don’t need checkpoints, we don’t need felony charges.”
He continues: “Who are we hurting, who are we threatening? … We’re fighting for everyone. We’re free.”
That man appears to be Sean Anderson, one of the final four holdouts still camped at the U.S. facility that was seized on Jan. 2 by armed occupiers angry about federal control of land. The dwindling group has seen its leaders arrested, one man fatally shot by police and several of their fellow occupiers turn themselves in to law enforcement. But those who remain are by turns desperate and defiant, eager to leave and yet ready to die rather than submit to arrest.
Anderson’s somber tone in the video Thursday morning was a dramatic shift from a scene in another video posted just a day earlier, when he held a gun before the camera and encouraged fellow “patriots” to join them at the refuge.
“Get here, get some,” he had bellowed at the time. “This is history in the making. There are no laws in this United States now. This is a free-for-all Armageddon.”
But much has changed at the remote wildlife refuge in the last 72 hours. On Tuesday, the leader of the armed takeover, Ammon Bundy, was arrested along with several other occupiers during a highway confrontation with the FBI and Oregon State Police that left one man dead. Federal authorities said Thursday that the man, LaVoy Finicum, attempted to drive away during the traffic stop and reached for his pocket — in which authorities later found a hand gun — while surrounded by officers, prompting state troopers to fatally shoot him.
After the initial arrests, six more people were taken into custody — two in nearby Burns, Ore., and one in Peoria, Ariz., on Tuesday, as well as three more who voluntarily left the refuge after law enforcement surrounded it early Wednesday morning. All of those arrested face a felony charge of conspiracy to impede a federal officer.
Meanwhile, six other people who decided to leave the refuge have been released after passing through a FBI checkpoint.
That left just four occupiers at the isolated facility, a windswept expanse of scrub grass and wetland in southeastern Oregon: the couple, Anderson and his wife Sandy; 27-year-old David Fry, who has been running the YouTube live stream, and another man, identified by the Los Angeles Times as Jeff Banta.
In interviews with reporters Thursday, these ragtag remnants of the nearly month-long occupation said that they were ready to abandon their stakeout, but not if they were going to be arrested as soon as they arrived at the FBI’s checkpoints.
“We’re not planning to use any guns. We’re planning to go home. But if they try to capture us or something … if they want to attack us we have to defend ourselves,” Fry told Oregon Public Broadcasting Thursday.
OPB host David Miller clarified: “So in other words, you would see an attempted arrest as an attack worth defending against.”
Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge for the FBI in Portland, said Thursday that negotiators “continue to work around the clock to talk to those four people in an effort to get them to come out peacefully.”
But he’s also expressed some impatience with the occupation, now in its 27th day.
“The armed occupiers were given ample opportunities to leave peacefully,” Bretzing said on Wednesday. “They were given the opportunity to negotiate. As outsiders to Oregon, they were given the opportunity to return to their homes and have their grievances heard through legal and appropriate means. They chose, instead, to threaten the very America they profess to love with violence, intimidation and criminal acts.”
Fry — a 27-year-old dental assistant from Cincinnati who said he left a family vacation in Costa Rica to join the occupation in Oregon — has said he is prepared to die during the siege.
“I’ll pass on and move on to the next life. I don’t know [how it will end], but I’m willing to go that far,” Fry told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday. “Obviously they are murdering people at this point. They’ve been doing it for a long time now, and you guys are watching it.”
He still felt that way on Thursday, he told OPB.
“I don’t really want to kill people,” Fry explained. “But I don’t want to be put in prison. And if I have to make it to where I have to die somehow, I’ll do that. But you don’t know if I’m gonna pull that trigger, you know?”
In interviews and in the videos that are still being uploaded to Fry’s YouTube channel via a patchy Internet connection from Malheur, Fry and his companions say they felt caught up in the “chaos” of the past two days. First there was the news Tuesday that Bundy and others were arrested and Finicum was killed. Then, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the FBI set up a perimeter around the refuge, blocking all the roads to the occupied headquarters and moving armored vehicles, floodlights and swarms of officers into place.
“It was chaos, fear, anger, sadness,” Anderson told KTVB of the mood at the refuge that night. “People are scattering, everybody was willing to die. You know, ‘They killed him, the raid is coming, they are going to kill us all.'”
Later on Wednesday, Ammon Bundy put out a call to his followers to “stand down.”
“Go home and hug your families,” he said. “This fight is ours for now — in the courts.”
Little by little, as Wednesday stretched into Thursday morning, nine of the people who remained at the refuge walked or drove to the checkpoints to turn themselves in. They left behind food, weapons and four uncertain fellow occupiers.
“We’re the grunts that get stuck behind because nobody informed us of what’s going on,” Sandy Anderson told the Los Angeles Times.
Until now, Fry and the others were little-known figures in the occupation — they described themselves as “foot soldiers” following Ammon Bundy and others.
Of the four who remain, the most is known about Fry, whose videos and website made him something of an IT specialist for the armed group. He’s been streaming events at the refuge, along with many dire-sounding rants, for weeks since he arrived in early January.
Fry has a criminal record that includes convictions for drug possession and disorderly conduct. He has also posted videos on YouTube that appear to show him burning papers from a collection agency requesting that he pay overdue court debt.
According to the Oregonian, Fry’s social media accounts included posts that were anti-Semitic, homophobic, pro-Nazi and in support of the Islamic State. A message on his Google + page read, “obama needs to be hung after being found guilty for TREASON!!” Others were tagged #Hitlerwasright and #Pray4ISIS.
Many of those posts were later deleted, and Fry told the Plain Dealer Wednesday that they were intended as satire.
“I’m not an anarchist,” he said. “… I support the government, just not the people we have in government now.”
Fry went on to say that he’s “tired of serving evil.”
“I’m tired of paying my money and going toward abortion, going toward bombing and other countries, arming rebels,” he said. “I’m tired of paying my taxes for that [expletive], so I’m going to fight.”
The Andersons told the Los Angeles Times they are from Riggins, Idaho.
Public records for a Sean Anderson from Riggins show convictions for resisting an officer, drug possession, trespassing and several instances of disorderly conduct. Sandy Anderson does not appear to have a criminal record.
Sean Anderson said that they’d driven back and forth from the refuge unimpeded several times over the past few weeks. He questioned why the FBI wouldn’t let them go now.
“Because I didn’t leave the night they told us to do that?” he asked the Los Angeles Times. “I hope my life and my wife’s life and Dave’s and Jeff’s are worth more than that.”
The fourth person at the refuge, identified as Jeff Banta, doesn’t seem to have given any interviews. According to OPB, Banta is from Elko, Nev.
Calls to phone numbers listed for all four occupiers were not returned.
In an “update” posted to his YouTube page, Fry said that those still at the refuge are in contact with the FBI — something that Bretzing confirmed at the Thursday news conference. But according to Fry, the group had been told that Sean Anderson was facing a felony charge for impeding a federal officer and would be arrested — something that Fry said he didn’t want to happen.
Speaking to OPB Thursday, Fry held out hope that he and his companions would be allowed to leave the refuge without being charged with a crime.
But Sean Anderson seemed less hopeful.
“We’re either going to accept the charges or they’re going to kill us,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
When the reporter pressed them on a third option — yielding to law enforcement and the judicial system — the Andersons balked.
“You think we’re going to put ourselves into a corrupt court system?” Sandy Anderson said.
All three of the occupiers also referenced the shooting death of Finicum during the traffic stop Tuesday.
Federal authorities have placed blame for the bloody outcome of that incident squarely with the occupiers. At the news conference on Thursday, Bretzing screened aerial footage from the highway encounter that showed one of the cars carrying occupiers speeding away from federal officials during the traffic stop. As it approached a road block, the car veered into the snow and came to a stop. Then a man who Bretzing identified as Finicum exited the car. He appeared to reach toward his jacket pocket — where Bretzing said he had a loaded handgun — before Oregon State Police troopers fatally shot him.
“Actions have consequences,” Bretzing said. “As the video clearly shows it was a reckless action that resulted in consequences you have seen here today.”
But to the people still inside the refuge, Finicum’s death is evidence that their standoff could also end violently.
“This is no game at this point,” Fry told OPB. “I don’t know if they’re really going to come in and kill us or what their deal is. They killed LaVoy Finicum.”
“There’s a lot of rumors and there’s a lot of stuff going on,” he continued. “We’re scared s—less.”