Militia groups meet with leaders of Oregon occupation, pledge support

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Members of self-styled militia groups met on Friday with armed protesters occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, pledging support for their cause, if not their methods, and offering to act as a peace-keeping force in the week-long standoff over land rights.

During the 30-minute meeting at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a leader of the occupation, Ammon Bundy, told about a dozen representatives of such groups as Pacific Patriots Network, Oath Keepers and III% that he had no immediate plans to abandon the siege.

"I was asked to do this by the Lord," said Bundy, a Mormon, as some of the militia members nodded in understanding. "I did it how he told me to do it."

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Ranching dispute in Oregon; protesters take over National Wildlife Refuge
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Militia groups meet with leaders of Oregon occupation, pledge support
KANAB, UT - FEBRUARY 5: A man holds a flag as two armed private security guards look on outside a Mormon church for the funeral of rancher Robert 'LaVoy' Finicum on February 5, 2016 in Kanab, Utah. Finicum who was part of the Burns, Oregon standoff with federal officials was shot and killed by FBI agents when they tried to detain him at a traffic stop on February 27, 2016. ( Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Law enforcement personnel monitor an intersection of closed Highway 395 in Burns, Oregon on January 26, 2016, during a standoff pitting an anti-government militia against the US authorities. One person died in an armed clash with police as they arrested the leaders of a group laying siege to an American wildlife refuge, the FBI said January 26. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on the sixth day of the occupation of the federal building in Burns, Oregon on January 7, 2016. The leader of a small group of armed activists who have occupied a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon hinted on Wednesday that the standoff may be nearing its end. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on the sixth day of the occupation of the federal building in Burns, Oregon on January 7, 2016. The leader of a small group of armed activists who have occupied a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon hinted on Wednesday that the standoff may be nearing its end. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 07: A member of an anti-government militia stands next to a campfire outside of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 7, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 07: A man wearing a patriotic jacket rides his horse on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on January 7, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Members of an armed anti-government militia, monitor the entrance to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon January 5, 2016. The occupation of a wildlife refuge by armed protesters in Oregon reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land. While the standoff in rural Oregon was prompted by the jailing of two ranchers convicted of arson, experts say the issue at the core of the dispute runs much deeper and concerns grazing or timber rights as well as permits to work mines on government land in Western states. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: Members of an anti-government militia stand outside of a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Ammon Bundy(2nd-L), leader of an armed anti-government militia, returns to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon January 5, 2016 following a news conference. The occupation of a wildlife refuge by armed protesters in Oregon reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land. While the standoff in rural Oregon was prompted by the jailing of two ranchers convicted of arson, experts say the issue at the core of the dispute runs much deeper and concerns grazing or timber rights as well as permits to work mines on government land in Western states. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: Ammon Bundy, the leader of an anti-government militia, speaks to members of the media in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: A view of the visitor center at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BURNS, OR - JANUARY 05: A member of an anti-government militia stands outside of a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters on January 5, 2016 near Burns, Oregon. An armed anti-government militia group continues to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters as they protest the jailing of two ranchers for arson. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Ammon Bundy, the leader of armed protesters who have taken over a federal building in rural Oregon, told TODAY Monday that the group has no intention of committing violence unless the government intervenes.

Photo courtesy: NBC News

Members of a small militia at the entrance to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters property some 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016. The armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Deserted N. Broadway Avenue in Burns, Oregon is seen January 3, 2016, where 30 miles away a militia group has occupied the Malheur Wildlife Headquarters complex. Anti-government militiamen from several US states continued to occupy the federal wildlife facility in Oregon, saying their protest against the jailing of two ranchers could last years, media reported. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
A vehicle occupied by members of a small militia group enter the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters property some 30 miles from Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016. The armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Media gather outside the entrance of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters near Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016, where an armed anti-government group have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some schools to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
Patric Batie, 14, walks along a road in Burns, Oregon, January 3, 2016, some 30 miles from the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters where a group of armed anti-government protesters have taken over a building at the federal wildlife refuge, accusing officials of unfairly punishing ranchers who refused to sell their land. The standoff has prompted some school to call off classes for the entire week. AFP PHOTO / ROB KERR / AFP / ROB KERR (Photo credit should read ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Earlier on Friday the Pacific Patriots Network called on its members to establish a safety perimeter around the refuge in remote southeastern Oregon to prevent a "Waco-style situation" from unfolding.

In 1993 federal agents laid siege to a compound in Waco, Texas, being held by the Branch Davidians religious sect for 51 days before the standoff ended in a gun battle and fire. Four federal agents and more than 80 members of the group died, including 23 children.

The Pacific Patriots Network has previously said that while it agrees with Bundy's land rights grievances, it does not support the occupation, a position leader Brandon Rapolla reiterated during the meeting.

Bundy thanked Rapolla and handed him a small roll of bills, which he said came from donations.

"We're friends, but we're operating separately," Rapolla, a former Marine who helped defend the Bundys in 2014 in their standoff with the U.S. government at their Nevada ranch, told Reuters in an earlier interview.

The militia members are not joining the occupation, but are sleeping in their vehicles or in hotels in Burns, he said.

Rapolla said he had also taken sausage McMuffins to FBI agents who are stationed at nearby Burns Municipal Airport to monitor the occupation and had coffee with deputies from the county sheriff's office on Thursday.

The meetings were friendly, he said, and he told them that they were there to make neither side escalates the dispute.

"That's really the point of militias: it's community involvement," Rapolla said. "If something happens in your community, that's what militias are for."

Some two dozen armed protesters have occupied the headquarters of the refuge since last Saturday, marking the latest incident in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of land and resources in the U.S. West.

The move followed a demonstration in support of two local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven, who were returned to prison earlier this week for setting fires that spread to federal land.

A lawyer for Hammond family has said that the occupiers do not speak for the family.

Ammon Bundy met briefly with Harney County Sheriff David Ward on Thursday but rejected the lawman's offer of safe passage out of the state to end the standoff.

During a press conference on Friday morning, Bundy seemed to soften his position, saying: "We will take that offer but not yet and we will go out of this county and out of this state as free men."

Following Bundy's press conference on Friday morning, a lands right activist opposed to the occupation spoke to the media.

"This is about furthering an extremist right-wing agenda," Barrett Kaiser, a Montana resident and a representative of the Center for Western Priorities said, as supporters of Bundy tried to interrupt him and argue with him. "They need to be charged and prosecuted."

Local residents have expressed a mixture of sympathy for the Hammond family, suspicion of the federal government's motives and frustration with the occupation.

Federal law enforcement agents and local police have so far kept away from the occupied site, maintaining no visible presence outside the park in a bid to avoid a violent confrontation.'

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