Bundy begins negotiations with FBI by phone
The Oregonian Jan 22, 2016, in Herald and News
Burns - The FBI opened negotiations with refuge occupier
Ammon Bundy on Thursday, with Bundy (center) standing at the
local airport drive for nearly an hour, talking to a FBI
negotiator by cell phone. BURNS – The FBI opened negotiations
Thursday with refuge occupier Ammon Bundy in a nearly hourlong
cellphone conversation as Bundy stood in an improbable scene on
the driveway to the local airport.
The FBI agent, who identified himself on the phone only as
“Chris,” listened to Bundy’s well-practiced litany of complaints
against the federal government and probed for what it would take
to end his occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
They ended the call with the promise to talk again Friday.
Bundy and Ryan Payne, another takeover organizer, said the FBI
reached out by phone and by messenger starting two days ago.
Bundy said he had 14 voice messages Wednesday from the
negotiator – the same day that Gov. Kate Brown publicly scolded
federal officials for what she said was their slow approach to
ending the Harney County standoff.
Bundy showed up unannounced at the Burns Airport, which is
serving as an operations base for the FBI. He said he was there
to talk with Chris but was told the negotiator wasn’t there
though he could talk by phone.
Bundy stood on the pavement of the driveway to the airport as he
talked, a bodyguard beside him, with two plainclothes FBI agents
as well as armed FBI agents in tactical dress standing nearby.
He put the cellphone on speaker, allowing all to listen in on
the first known conversation between the federal agents and
Bundy since the occupation started Jan. 2.
“I’m a face-to-face kind of guy,” Bundy told the negotiator.
“You reached out to me ... I’m not sure exactly what you wanted
to talk about.”
The conversation sounded in some ways like acquaintances
catching up, with the FBI negotiator asking about activities out
at the refuge. Bundy told him about launching the effort to hand
over federal land titles to local people, about cleaning up
refuge buildings, about dealing with fire hazards in the refuge
compound’s fire house.
Bundy — the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy who defied
federal authorities in 2014 in a dispute over grazing on public
land — covered concerns about how the U.S. Bureau of Land
Management allegedly impedes efforts by local ranchers to help
put out range fires. He said ranchers are “afraid of
prosecution” if they help now.
Bundy has called for the release of Burns-area ranchers Dwight
Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, sent to prison on arson
convictions for burning federal land. They reported back to
prison this month to finish five-year prison sentences in the
case after serving lighter sentences. Their lawyer is seeking
executive clemency for the men.
The negotiator asked why Bundy picked Harney County.
“You’re familiar with the Hammonds,” Bundy said. The federal
government for years has tried to buy the Hammond ranch to add
to the refuge holdings, he claimed.
The negotiator pressed for what Bundy wanted to see done with
the refuge. Bundy said it should be turned over to Harney County
He said his group wouldn’t leave until practical steps had been
taken to get the refuge out of federal control and ensure the
refuge buildings were never again used by the federal
How would that get done, the agent asked.
“I don’t know,” Bundy said. “We could put more thought to that.”
Bundy, as he would several times through the conversation, said
his group had no intention of resorting to violence to settle
“We’re not going to escalate anything,” he said. “You would be
the only ones to escalate this.”
But Bundy had questions of his own. He asked by what authority
the FBI was involved in the refuge occupation.
“Are you here under authority of the sheriff?” Bundy asked.
When the negotiator said the sheriff had asked for federal help,
Bundy responded, “You do not have the people’s authority to be
In measured tones, the negotiator told him, “The sheriff has
asked for our assistance.”
Sheriff Dave Ward has repeatedly told the occupiers to go home
and met with Bundy two weeks ago, promising him safe passage out
of the county. But the sheriff said Bundy wouldn’t take him up
on the offer.
As the negotiator repeatedly cycled back to the issue of how to
end the standoff, Bundy was equally insistent that action had to
happen — not just talk.
One action was paramount to ending the standoff, he said: “You
can bring the Hammonds back home to their families.”
When the negotiator asked if he was referring to a presidential
pardon, Bundy had quick response. “The president didn’t put
them” in prison, Bundy said. “You and I both know the president
is not going to get them out.”
Instead, he said the federal prosecutors who put the Hammonds in
prison “need to work their magic” to free the ranchers.
Bundy brought the conversation to a close, saying he had other
meetings and tasks to attend. A group of New Mexico state
legislators was expected at the refuge, he said.
The negotiator asked how they could stay in touch, whether he
could use a landline at the refuge to reach Bundy. Bundy
demurred, saying the occupiers weren’t using refuge phones.
“We want to work together with you,” the negotiator said.
The two agreed to connect again in 24 hours.
With that, the negotiator hung up, Bundy handed the borrowed
cellphone to an FBI agent and headed for a pickup truck for the
30-mile drive back to the refuge.
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