Armed group's meeting is in limbo
BURNS — The leader of an armed group occupying a national wildlife refuge said Thursday a meeting with local residents will happen but it's not clear when and where because the group is struggling to find a place for the gathering.
The group protesting federal land policies had planned to hold a meeting Friday evening in Burns to explain themselves and tell residents when they will leave.
Leader Ammon Bundy told reporters that Harney County officials won't let them use the fairgrounds, as they had hoped.
"It's still in limbo," Bundy said. "We're still going to have it. It's just a matter of when and where."
Officials in Burns, about 30 miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, said the meeting can't be held at the fairgrounds or any other county facility.
On Wednesday, the county fire chief — a sympathizer of the armed group — resigned over the county's refusal to host the meeting.
Chris Briels, a member of the Harney County Committee of Safety, a group of private citizens, announced his resignation surrounded by cheering anti-government activists.
The safety committee previously asked the armed men to leave town but has now offered to push for local control of federal lands after the occupiers leave.
On Thursday, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association issued a statement in support of Harney County Sheriff David Ward, who has met with Bundy to ask the armed men to leave the refuge.
Bundy has previously said the occupiers would not leave until a plan was in place to turn over federal lands to local authorities. They also want the release of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers convicted of arson who returned to prison earlier this month to serve longer sentences.
Federal, state and local law enforcement are monitoring the occupation but have not taken action to remove the armed group.