The jailed leader of the occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon has called on elected officials from mostly Western states to voice support for free speech and civil disobedience and to visit their constituents in federal custody.
At least one Nevada lawmaker — state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore — is answering the call.
“It is your duty to hold federal agencies at bay, protecting the people in your state,” occupation leader Ammon Bundy said according to the transcript of a telephone call he made Saturday from jail and released by one of his lawyers Monday.
He also urged elected representatives in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Washington state and Ohio to support the right to assemble.
Fiore, who is running for Rep. Joe Heck’s 3rd Congressional District seat, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that she is planning a trip to Portland and expects to be in the city Thursday night to protest the jailing of Ammon and his brother Ryan Bundy. The brothers are sons of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, who is embroiled in a legal dispute with the Bureau of Land Management over more than two decades of unpaid federal grazing fees.
An Oregon TV station tweeted at Fiore asking if she was planning the trip to Portland, to which she replied “CONFIRMED” in all capital letters.
While at least one media outlet has reported Cliven Bundy would make the trek to Oregon sometime this week, the rancher told the Review-Journal that he has not yet made up his mind and has other obligations to consider before going.
“I’ve been invited to go with (Fiore). I haven’t committed myself at all,” he said when reached by phone Monday night.
Cliven Bundy said Fiore did not personally invite him, but rather a mutual third party was setting it up. He declined to identify the third party.
Fiore told the public broadcasting station that she and other Western state lawmakers will meet Cliven Bundy in Burns and in Portland and that she would also demand the release of Ryan Bundy, who is from Nevada.
Ammon Bundy’s attorney Mike Arnold said he read that Fiore was planning to make a trip out to Portland. “I look forward to meeting her,” Arnold said, adding he was unaware of any others.
“Ammon’s main goal is to educate and increase the dialogue through free speech,” Arnold said Monday night. “The government needs to realize that when you arrest a political protester, that doesn’t mean you can muzzle them. That’s not what America’s about.”
The two Bundy brothers and nine others were arrested in Oregon in late January, most of them during a confrontation with the FBI and state police on a roadside where a spokesman for the group, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was fatally shot. A 12th member of the group turned himself in to police in Arizona.
Two of those arrested have been released on condition that they wear electronic tracking devices while awaiting trial, leaving 10 of the former protesters, including the two Bundys, in custody.
Four armed anti-government protesters still at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were indicted last week with the 12 others on charges of conspiring to impede federal officers during an armed standoff at the compound.
The takeover at Malheur started Jan. 2 when Bundy and followers seized buildings at the refuge in a protest against federal control over millions of acres of public land in the West.
A judge cited the continuing standoff as an obstacle to the release of at least some of those still in custody. They are to be arraigned on Feb. 24.
Tensions have flared in the town of Burns, 30 miles north of the refuge, with hundreds of demonstrators and residents angry about the occupation and its supporters.
Ammon Bundy has released statements previously, defending the takeover and urging the four holdouts to stand down.
Members of the Burns Paiute Tribe, native Americans whose land previously encompassed the preserve, have criticized Bundy and his group.