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An armed group that has occupied a wildlife refuge in Oregon for more than a week plan to hold a community meeting on Friday to explain why they took over a building there and when they will leave.
LaVoy Finicum, one of the protesters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, announced the meeting Tuesday, the eleventh day since the group took over a federal building there and demanded the government turn over federal land to local control.
Finicum said the meeting would be held in the town of Burns at 7 p.m., NBC affiliate KTVZ reported.
Finicum, a rancher from Arizona, covered himself with a tarp and waited with his rifle for federal agents — who never arrived — on Dec. 5 after a false rumor of an impending crackdown circulated among occupiers. He suggested then that he'd rather be killed than arrested and imprisoned.
The group, led by Ammon Bundy, attended a protest in Burns Jan. 2 over the prison sentences for two ranchers convicted of burning public land and then took over the empty federal building, where they have been since.
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward has asked the group to leave, and called them outsiders who "hijacked" the peaceful protest over the convicted ranchers, father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, in order to advance their own agenda.
"The people on the refuge — and those who they have called to our community — obviously have no consideration for the wishes or needs of the people of Harney County," Ward said in a statement Monday. "If they did, they, too, would work to bring this situation to a peaceful close."
At community meetings about the situation, some residents in Burns have called for the group to pack up and go home, while others said they were grateful that the occupation has raised the discussion of land management to a broader audience.
At a meeting Monday, a high school freshman was given a standing ovation when she said the group should leave.
"And I just want them to go home so I can feel safe and I can feel like it is home again," 15-year-old Ashlie Presley said with tears in her eyes, referring to the armed men, according to The Associated Press.
"I shouldn't have to be scared, none of us in Harney County should have to be scared in our own hometown," she said.
A lawyer for the Hammonds has said the group does not speak for the Hammond family. The protest in Burns occurred after the father and son, who had already served jail time, were ordered to return to prison by a court that found the initial sentences were lighter than the statutory minimum of five years.
Dwight and Steven Hammond turned themselves in to authorities at a federal prison in San Pedro, California, on Jan. 4, two days after the group took over the building at the wildlife refuge.