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After Weeks Of Lying Low, Federal Law Enforcement Arrests 8 Occupiers In Oregon


Until yesterday, the FBI and police had been avoiding confrontation with the militants. As the occupation dragged on, many people on the outside wondered why. NPR's law enforcement correspondent Martin Kaste set out to answer that question. And a warning - this story contains strong language.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Those new checkpoints on the roads to the refuge are a stark contrast to what had been happening. For three weeks, not only were the authorities not raiding the refuge. They made themselves scarce, letting the militants come and go at will. Steve Ijames is a retired police tactical operations expert, and he says this approach is really just SWAT 101.

STEVE IJAMES: Just by goal, beginning with the end in mind, was to deescalate this but to also enforce the law. The last thing I want to do is stow them up in there for an unlimited amount of time. I would like the ringleaders - the people who are in a position of leadership - to be caught away from the premises, and it appears that's exactly what they did.

KASTE: He says incidents such as Ruby Ridge and Waco taught the Feds to avoid sieges. A siege tends to escalate tensions, and it can even generate public sympathy for the people inside. These days, the strategy is hang back, and watch. But it's not always an easy strategy to follow, especially when state officials start losing their patience.


KATE BROWN: The situation is absolutely intolerable.

KASTE: That's Oregon Governor Kate Brown last week calling on the feds to end the occupation.


BROWN: Federal authorities must move quickly and hold all of the wrongdoers accountable. This spectacle of lawlessness must end.

KASTE: The governor said the feds needed to pay attention to how this waiting game was wearing people down in Harney County, a point that was echoed today at the press conference when the sheriff, Dave Ward, talked about the effect of having the militants coming and going from the refuge like that.


DAVE WARD: Some of these folks have spent a lot of time in town trying to stir some issues within the community. If it was as simple as just waiting out some folks down there to get out of some buildings, we could have waited a lot longer, but this has been tearing our community apart.

KASTE: Also, the longer the feds waited to bottle up the refuge, the more time there was for sympathizers to show up from other parts of the country. The numbers were held in check somewhat by the remoteness of the refuge and the cold weather, but new people have been trickling in. Just two days ago, state troopers arrested a man on suspicion of DUI. He appeared to be headed to the occupation, and he made his feelings about law enforcement abundantly clear during the arrest captured by a body camera.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Son of a [expletive] Homeland Security [expletive]. Go to Hell, you [expletive]. And I won't kill you. I will not kill State Troopers, but you son-of-a-[expletive] cops, I will kill you.

KASTE: No community wants to become a magnet for people with that kind of anger. Steve Ijames admits that this is a risk with the nonconfrontational approach, and he says the fact that one of the militants was killed during the operation out on the highway yesterday now casts a shadow over everything else.

IJAMES: Once the first shot is fired, the entire dynamic changes, and everybody recognizes this is the real deal. And I think that increases the probability of a less-than-peaceful outcome.

KASTE: Ijames worries that this one death will harden the attitudes of the people still holed up inside the refuge, creating the very sense of siege that the feds had sought to avoid. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
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