On Thursday, Harney County, Oregon Sheriff Dave Ward met Ammon Bundy in a remote area near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Bundy has been leading an illegal armed occupation of a federal building for almost a week. But Ward greeted Bundy with a firm handshake instead of handcuffs.
— Beth Nakamura (@bethnakamura) January 7, 2016
Bundy and his crew have threatened to kill law enforcement officials who attempt to intervene. Ward refused to meet with Bundy at the refuge headquarters the militia is occupying “mindful of a tall watch tower that is manned round the clock by the protesters.”
Ward reached out to Bundy to arrange the meeting, where he encouraged Bundy and his militia to leave town. Bundy also offered to provide protection for the militia as they left town, suggesting they could leave the state without being charged with any crime. “I’m here to offer safe escort out, go back and kick it around with your folks,” Ward said.
Notably, Ward “said the militants weren’t asked to come unarmed.” He also promised “no protester appearing at the meeting would be arrested.”
The clear effort by Ward to deescalate the situation and avoid unnecessary loss of life is, in many ways, admirable. Still, the treatment of armed militants conducting an illegal occupation in Oregon differs greatly from the response to overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations by unarmed individuals protesting police misconduct.
In Ferguson, for example, protesters were met by police with military-style equipment, full riot gear, and tear gas:
In response to Ward’s extraordinary offer, Bundy gave Ward a lecture on the constitution. After five minutes or so, the two men got back into their respective vehicles and drove away.
Back at the refuge Bundy told the media that he was rejecting Ward’s offer and planned to remain at the refuge indefinitely.