Last hours of armed standoff play out online for listeners

AP News
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Posted: Feb 11, 2016 3:40 PM
Last hours of armed standoff play out online for listeners

The end of a nearly six-week-long standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge played out live on the Internet, with tens of thousands of people listening as supporters encouraged the last armed occupiers to surrender.

An open phone line broadcast on YouTube gave a glimpse into the final hours of the standoff, with the four remaining occupiers shouting, laughing and praying. The holdouts surrendered Thursday, having refused to leave Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after the group's leaders were arrested last month.

The call was streamed live by an acquaintance of David Fry, who yelled rambling tirades and threats against the government on a cellphone from a cot inside a tent. Fry's friend, a Nevada lawmaker, a Christian lawyer and a reverend tried to calm him and the others between Wednesday night and Thursday.

Fry held off his surrender for a couple of hours after the other three walked out, saying his grievances still had not been met.

"I'm actually pointing a gun at my head," the 27-year-old said. "It's better to die with honor than be forced to live dishonorably."

Those on the line begged him not to kill himself.

The livestream showed what was happening on the ground in real time, with reporters kept away from the refuge by the FBI. The group, also made up of Jeff Banta of Nevada and Idaho married couple Sean and Sandy Anderson, had previously been posting updates to a YouTube channel called Defend Your Base.

Federal authorities moved in Wednesday night, surrounding the holdouts with armored vehicles, saying it "became necessary to take action" to ensure the safety of all involved.

The occupiers' panic and their negotiations with FBI agents could be heard live on the Internet.

"They're threatening us," Sandy Anderson said after the group was surrounded. "They're getting closer. I pray that there's a revolution if we die here tonight."

The next day, her husband sounded nervous as preparations got underway to surrender. Sean Anderson said that if the FBI double-crosses them, "all deals are off."

"We want to be honorary Marines, because I think we stood on the battlefield and fought for our country," he said.

After the Andersons and Banta walked out of the refuge, Fry stayed behind, remaining defiant.

"I'm actually feeling suicidal right now," he said. "I will not go another day a slave to the system. I'm a free man. I will die a free man."

Christian lawyer KrisAnn Hall and activist Gavin Seim, who streamed the call, told Fry that he was an important voice for their cause and they would protect and support him even in custody.

Fry rambled that he didn't want to pay his taxes, felt like killing himself and wanted a pizza.

His supporters urged him to give up.

"All I needed was marijuana," Fry said at one point.

He finally said he would leave if everyone would say, "Hallelujah." As he walked out, officials standing nearby called out the word.

An officer told him to put his hands behind his back and then the line went dead.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle .