Feds Take Low-Key Approach to Oregon Standoff

Law enforcement is not looking for an armed confrontation.

ByABC News
January 6, 2016, 9:51 PM

— -- Federal officials and local law enforcement have been in a standoff with protesters for days at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

But authorities don’t see a compelling need to take immediate action against the protesters, according to law enforcement sources.

The FBI is looking to determine the safety of people inside and whether the group poses a threat to anyone nearby before deciding on a course of action, according to Brad Garret, ABC News consultant and former FBI special agent.

“Anything that would potentially harm others is going to drive a decision by law enforcement to do something,” he said.

Since the land is remote, there were no hostages and the armed men do not appear to have explosive devices, the FBI is likely to try to negotiate and gather intelligence on the situation before making any major moves, said Garrett.

The FBI, which is working in conjunction with the Harney County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police, took over as the lead investigative agency for the situation at refuge earlier this week.

Harney County Sheriff David Ward told The Oregonian that steps are being taken to resolve the standoff, but that law enforcement do not want to get into an armed conflict with the protesters.

“We're not amassing some army because we're looking for a fight," he said to the newspaper.

The sheriff has called on the occupying protesters to leave peacefully.

Law enforcement has not had a visible presence at the refuge, a mecca for birdwatchers, since Saturday when militia members including sons of Cliven Bundy -- who was involved in a standoff with the government over grazing rights in Nevada in 2014 -- set up a roadblock, took over buildings and began occupying the federal land.

The protest initially began as a rally in support of local ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond who were convicted setting fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

But it became an occupation of federal lands, continuing even after the Hammonds turned themselves over to authorities.

The 187,757-acre refuge is open to the public year round and is staffed by federal employees, but no one was working there at the time of the takeover. The facility is will remain closed as authorities monitor the situation for additional developments according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"You don't want to end up in a situation where you've actually emboldened their behavior," he said.

Although the Oregon protesters have refused to leave, they have repeatedly said they are not looking for a violent outcome.

“Nobody here will fire that first shot. We will protect ourselves, but that’s not what we want and I don’t think that’s what they want,” said militia member John Ritzheimer to ABC’s Neal Karlinsky at the refuge.

Neal Karlinsky and Emily Shapiro contributed reporting.