Oregon town tense amid dueling protests after wildlife refuge takeover

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Oregon Town Activists Protest Standoff, 'Militarized' Police


Burns, Oregon, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Tension flared in the deeply divided town of Burns, Oregon, on Monday as 500 demonstrators on both sides of an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge squared off, brandishing signs and yelling at each other days after one of the occupiers was shot dead by state police.

Only four people remain at the refuge after several were arrested or left last week.

Residents angered by the four-week presence of the armed occupiers and their supporters started crowding the streets in front of the Harney County Courthouse in late morning, seeking to serve as a counter-protest to a noon (2000 GMT) demonstration called at the courthouse by supporters of the occupation.

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Shortly before noon, the mostly residential streets around the courthouse in this community of less than 3,000 had swelled with protesters - about 300 opposed to the occupiers and 200, some of them from out of town, in favor. Some of the demonstrators had sidearms.

Those opposed to the militia shouted, "Go home!" Supporters, some carrying signs with a photograph of LaVoy Finicum, an occupier who was shot by police last week, shouted back, "We are home."

The tense demonstrations continued for nearly four hours.

See photos from the standoff:

19 PHOTOS
Ranching dispute in Oregon; protesters take over National Wildlife Refuge
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Oregon town tense amid dueling protests after wildlife refuge takeover
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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"We're trying to make the militia leave our town," Andrew Snyder, 20, said before the two sides faced off.

Like many here, Snyder agrees with the occupiers' goal of reducing federal control over lands where cattle graze. But he said the occupation of the refuge is wrong and that they should take their fight to court.

"I want to feel safe in my town," said Lindsay Davies, 37, a mother of three who says her young children are afraid of the armed protesters walking around the community. "It feels like a threat when people are carrying guns and you see guns all over the place."

Finicum, 54, was killed on Wednesday by police during the arrests of occupation leader Ammon Bundy and several other protesters at a traffic stop. Bundy on Tuesday will challenge a judge's order that he be held without bail pending trial on federal conspiracy charges.

The occupation began Jan. 2, when Bundy and at least a dozen followers took the refuge to protest federal control of millions of acres of western land.

Over the weekend, the remaining occupiers said they lost cellular and Internet connections, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

"That's part of the negotiations and we're not commenting on the negotiations," said FBI spokeswoman Beth Ann Steele, speaking for the joint task force of law enforcement agencies working on the standoff. (Writing and additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Editing by Bill Trott, Bernard Orr)

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