BURNS, Oregon - Militants who have taken over a federal wildlife refuge could face charges, the local sheriff told Oregon Public Broadcasting Tuesday.
The comments by Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward came as armed men from militias and other groups who took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge were readying to spend their fourth night at the compound.
On Monday, Ward told the men at the refuge to "go home," and on Tuesday said he been assured by the FBI that those who remain at the compound would face federal charges.
"The FBI is handling the criminal case occurring on the refuge and the bureau has assured me those at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will at some point face charges," Ward said in an interview with OPB.
Sheriff officials told BuzzFeed News the FBI is spearheading any criminal investigation that stems from the occupation.
Many of the armed men, however, have told BuzzFeed News they don't believe they are breaking laws because the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a public area.
Members of militia have invited members of the press inside for the past two days, opened sheds, doors to buildings, and passing around building access keys to each other.
In at least one occasion, however, BuzzFeed News observed members of the militia blocking access to a reporter who wanted to go inside one of the buildings under occupation.
BuzzFeed News also observed trucks bearing the logo of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that had been commandeered and used by members of the militia.
The group arrived in the town of Burns on Saturday to participate in a protest to support Dwight and Steven Hammond, father and son ranchers who were ordered back to federal prison to serve out the remainder of a five-year sentence for arson.
Groups across several states joined the protests, but a faction splintered and headed toward the refuge.
The Hammonds, meanwhile, turned themselves in Monday, but the men at the refuge have stayed put, saying they wont leave until local ranchers are "freed from unconstitutional federal claims on their lands."
Speaking to reporters, Ammon Bundy — whose father also led a standoff with federal authorities in his ranch in Nevada — has said the federal government has "gone beyond the boundaries of the Constitution."
Members of the group have also called for federal land to be returned to farmers, ranchers and miners.
"These are public lands," LaVoy Finicum, a rancher from Arizona, said. "We've come to restore these ranches. We would love to see the hundreds of ranchers who've lost their land return to their land."
Exactly what would end the standoff, or what specific, further demands have been made by the group, remained unclear Tuesday night.
Dwight and Steve Hammond have remained silent on the takeover.
Dwight Hammond's wife, Susan Hammond, told BuzzFeed News in an interview from her home she wasn't sure if any of the actions of the groups have helped her husband and son.
"I don't even know what's going on up there," she said.
As the standoff reaches its fourth consecutive night, schools in the area have remained closed, a move officials said was made as a precaution.
Several businesses also appeared to be closed, and residents in the area told BuzzFeed News some families have left town until the issue is resolved.
Ward has also called for increased patrols in the area with the help of neighboring agencies, though no law enforcement presence could be seen near the refuge.
He also called for a community meeting Wednesday to address the questions of residents there.
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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