Four remaining holdouts negotiated the terms of their surrender in a tense conversation with a Nevada lawmaker overheard by tens of thousands of people online.
The bizarre spectacle was at times dramatic, heart-rending and farcical, as the armed occupiers struggled to find a dignified exit to the 16-day holdout that may define — or possibly end — their lives.
The four — Sean Anderson, Sandy Anderson, David Fry and Jeff Banta — had remained at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve for more than two weeks after the arrests of the group’s top leaders and the fatal shooting of another.
They camped in frigid temperatures in an RV turnaround area near the visitors center where the other militants had lived and where supplies were kept.
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FBI agents tightened their grip on the occupied wildlife refuge late Wednesday after one of the militants rode an ATV past a checkpoint set up by authorities, and the militants called Gavin Seim, an associate in Washington who set up a live stream of their conversation.
That call was joined by Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who sped across Oregon with militant leader Ammon Bundy’s attorney, and the Rev. Franklin Graham, who the holdout militants had asked to negotiate with the federal government on their behalf.
Many listeners faulted Fiore for her failure to urge the militants to surrender peacefully, but it soon became clear she had been tasked by federal authorities with gaining their trust and keeping them calm.
Prayers seemed to calm the militants initially, but they soon complained they were tired of praying even as they made frequent references to religion.
“The Bible says we have a right to defend ourselves,” Sandy Anderson said.
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The first couple of hours were marked with frequent outbursts from Fry, who the other militants frequently ordered to stay calm, but it eventually became clear that Sandy Anderson might have been the holdout most willing to die.
She repeatedly — and emphatically — said she would not accept any terms that involved her arrest, and she waved off appeals to think about her family.
Anderson said she and her husband, Sean, were each estranged from their children and suggested they had nothing to live for outside the nature preserve.
Fiore and the militants repeatedly assured themselves they were law-abiding citizens, despite the charges that are likely looming over them.
The holdouts passionately detailed their objections to what they saw as government overreach, complaining about Common Core education standards, the estate tax and costly gun control laws they believed had been implemented by President Barack Obama.
Many of their objections were based on falsehoods or erroneous understandings of actual events — much like the highly specific and legally dubious interpretation of the U.S. Constitution they share with the other militants.
The holdouts questioned whether the FBI had any jurisdiction over the wildlife refuge, arguing that their understanding of the Constitution forbade most federal land ownership — a claim legal scholars dismiss as ridiculous.
The militants desperately sought closure, but none of them seemed to know what that would look like.
“Just kill us and get it over with,” Sandy Anderson screamed at one point.
But they also believed they held enough leverage to negotiate a surrender that would allow them to walk off the wildlife refuge with their guns and without facing criminal charges.
“I’m tired of arguing this with people — I don’t have to go to court,” Sandy Anderson complained at one point.
Somehow, the militants believed this position amounted to a concession on their part and demanded the FBI make a concession of their own.
In the end, the militants agreed to surrender Thursday morning, after Fiore and Graham arrived.
The nearly five-hour call ended with some light chat as Seim readied a recorded song by the Sharp Family Singers, a religious troupe that had visited the occupants before their leaders were arrested and most of them fled.
Listen to the entire recording posted online by Gavin Seim: