A sheriff in Oregon on Friday canceled a face-to-face meeting with the leader of a militia that took over a national wildlife refuge who said he has no immediate intention of leaving.
The cancellation comes one day after Ammon Bundy — the leader of the armed group who took the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, prompting a standoff that has lasted nearly a week now — met with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward to discuss a peaceful end to the standoff.
At the in-person meeting — the first since the standoff started — Ward offered to escort the militia members out of the county, but Bundy said during a news conference Friday they had no intention of leaving, yet.
"We will take that offer," Bundy said Friday, according to The Oregonian. "But not yet. And we will go out of this state and out of this county as free men."
Those comments prompted Ward to cancel a second meeting that was scheduled to take place Friday, an effort on behalf of the sheriff to open communication with the group and end a standoff that has put the small, rural community on edge for a week.
The sheriff said in a statement that there are no longer any calls or meetings scheduled with the group at the moment.
The sheriff's department had announced beforehand that the goal was a "peaceful resolution."
The sheriff said he was not meeting with the intention of making an arrest, but he asked the occupiers to "leave and respect the wishes" of locals. The Oregonian also described the location as "neutral ground" and reported that Ward was accompanied by sheriffs from two other counties and "three rigs carrying heavily armed law enforcement officers."
According to reporters at the scene, Bundy declined Ward's offer for an escort for his group to the state line, but the two did shake hands. Bundy added that the occupiers meant no harm to the community, and another meeting was set for Thursday.
Ward's effort to meet with the group came just one day after the community gathered to discuss the occupation. When Ward asked how many people at the gathering wanted the occupiers to go home, almost every hand in the room went up.
The occupation began Saturday evening in response to the impending imprisonment of two members of the Hammond family — ranchers based in the Burns, Oregon, area.
The two ranchers were convicted of burning over 100 acres of federal land and sentenced to five years in prison. They have since started their incarceration, but have also said the Bundys and other occupiers do not speak for them.
In addition to the meeting on Thursday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown condemned the occupation, calling it an "unlawful" protest conducted by "outsiders whose tactics we Oregonians don't agree with."
"Those individuals illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge need to decamp immediately and be held accountable," Brown added in her statement.
Brown's comments come as pressure continues to mount against the occupiers. Though they have argued that they are protesting government overreach, many community members and local authorities have repeatedly distanced themselves and called on them to leave.
Nevertheless, the occupiers themselves told BuzzFeed News this week their ranks have grown during the occupation, and even if a resolution is reached, the group may walk away with greater support than they had when the protest began.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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