Another heavily-armed militia arrived Saturday at the Oregon wildlife refuge that has been occupied for a week, raising tensions in a community that is already on edge.
Members of the new group, known as the Pacific Patriots Network, arrived donning bullet proof vests, camouflage gear, and several magazines of ammo at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Different groups and members of militias have taken over the refuge for a week, and have demanded the return of federal lands to ranchers, the release of two convicted local ranchers, and an end to federal "overreach."
But the presence of the new militia seemed to have significantly changed the mood at the refuge, and raised concerns among the original group that the newcomers' presence could escalate what has already been a tense standoff with local law enforcement.
However, after meeting with leaders of the original occupying group, members of the Pacific Patriots Network left the refuge Saturday just hours after their arrival.
"I just shook hands, and hugged, and they were gone," LaVoy Finicum, one of the leaders at the refuge told BuzzFeed News. "I know they are a great support to us, and it's always been a support from a distance."
Finicum would not say whether the group was invited to the refuge, or if they were asked to leave. However, he said he was concerned that having a heavily armed group patrolling the area around the refuge could raise tensions in the community.
"Things are actually really good, we're feeling very safe right now," he said. "It's really starting to wind down, at least in pressure."
Though many of the first occupiers were armed, most were limited to handguns that remained holstered — at least in public. Some semi-automatic rifles were observed this week by BuzzFeed News inside vehicles, barracks, and carried by at least one person.
Press and local residents were allowed to go into the refuge as well, though they weren't allowed to walk into some occupied buildings.
But when members of the Pacific Patriots Network arrived, several journalists reported being brushed aside by members of the militia, who were heavily armed and began limiting access to the refuge.
According to the group's website, leaders of the Pacific Patriot's Network put out an "Immediate Call To Action" to members, calling on them to "secure a perimeter around the Wildlife Refuge."
The purpose, according to the alert, was to "prevent a Waco-style situation from unfolding during this peaceful occupation."
Their departure, however seemed unplanned.
In the militia's call to action, it stated the group planned to, "serve as a neutral third-party intermediary to prevent bloodshed."
Members of the group did not immediately return BuzzFeed News' requests for comment.
Finicum told BuzzFeed News he did not know if there were any plans for the group to return.
Burns, the city about 30 miles from the refuge, has been on edge since the beginning of the occupation. Schools have closed as a precaution, some residents have left town, and the sheriff reported that deputies have been followed home and harassed.
Wednesday, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward held a community meeting attended by more than 500 residents — a majority of whom seemed to agree that the original armed group that took over the refuge should go home.
Though many of the grievances about the federal government and land issues — particularly dealings with the Bureau of Land Management — have struck a chord in the largely ranching community, many residents said they were willing to take on the fight without the group at the refuge.
Ward met with the leader of the group, Ammon Bundy, Thursday and asked the group to leave. Ward cancelled a second meeting Friday after Bundy said the group had no plans to leave.
Finicum told BuzzFeed News that although there was no timeline on when the group expected to leave, they were working with local residents to find a resolution and help them continue fighting.
"We're getting ready to pass the baton to the citizens of Harney County, and we can go home," he said.
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at email@example.com.
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