Authorities arrested a man they said was driving a government vehicle stolen from a wildlife refuge being occupied by an armed group protesting federal land policies as the standoff in Oregon's high desert hit the two-week mark.
Kenneth Medenbach, 62, of Crescent was arrested by Oregon State Police at a grocery store in Burns for investigation of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. It was unclear if he has a lawyer. Medenbach is already facing charges in U.S. District Court in Medford after authorities said he illegally camped on federal land between May and November last year, according to federal court records.
Authorities also say they recovered a second stolen vehicle from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge but provided no other details. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously reported the vehicles had been stolen.
So far, authorities have not tried to remove the group from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. As the situation drags on, people in the local area are growing increasingly weary and wary of the group.
Cement barriers have been erected to block streets around the county courthouse in the small eastern Oregon town of Burns, where police from around the state have set up a command center.
About 30 miles to the south at the refuge, other protesters carrying what appear to be military-style rifles scan the snow-covered rangeland from atop an old fire lookout that gives them a sweeping view of roads leading into the area.
"If we all keep a calm about us everything will be OK," Brenda Pointere said Thursday as she exited a Burns restaurant. "It started out calm, but the longer it goes on — you start to hear rumors."
The occupation started Jan. 2 as a protest over two area ranchers who had been convicted of arson being returned to prison to serve longer sentences.