The Rev. Franklin Graham offered powerful testimony in federal court Thursday morning about the intense final moments of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.
Testifying for the defense, the North Carolina evangelist described the final days of the 41-day takeover, including his conversations with the FBI and the last four occupiers to leave the refuge.
Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, was brought in by the FBI as a third-party negotiator near the end of the occupation. He described the first phone conversation he had with the final four occupiers — David Fry, Jeff Banta and Sean and Sandy Anderson — which occurred on Feb. 2.
“I wanted to help calm the situation,” he testified. “But I also wanted the FBI to take a deep breath.”
After that, Graham said he spoke to the occupiers every day until the takeover ended except for one day when he was traveling because he wanted to “save lives.” His powerful testimony offered a glimpse into the mindset of the four occupiers in the final days.
He said the occupiers were afraid to give themselves up to the FBI, especially after the shooting of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
Graham described the nature of his calls and how it worked: He would always call the FBI before he would call the occupiers directly. Then he would check back in with the FBI after each call.
“I wanted to know them,” he said of why he kept speaking with the occupiers. “I wanted to know their state of mind.
“I always prayed with them,” said Graham.
He testified that memories of what happened at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, were part of why he wanted to be involved in helping bring the occupation to a peaceful end.
The intensity of his conversations with the occupiers kicked into high gear on Feb. 10 when he said the FBI gave him a call that night explaining that they were ready to go in and get the final occupiers. FBI agents asked him if he would come out to Oregon, and he said he would, but that it would take him until the next morning.
When his plane arrived in Burns from North Carolina the morning of Feb. 11, the FBI met him at the plane and escorted him to the edge of the refuge before transferring him into an FBI BearCat to get closer to the occupiers. Perched up about 100 feet from the group, Graham spoke to them from a loudspeaker provided to him by FBI agents.
Graham said Jeff Banta was the first person to come out, but Banta later testified that he was the third person to emerge, following Sean and Sandy Anderson. Graham said the Andersons came out with their hands up holding an American flag. After those three came out, the FBI drove the BearCat back a bit, where he said he was able to meet those three, embrace them and tell them, “You did the right thing.”
Then he described the dramatic final moments where David Fry refused to come out. Speaking with Graham, Fry described violent thoughts he was having and was contemplating suicide. Graham said he offered the phone up to Sandy Anderson to try to calm Fry down. She told him that the agents were treating them all with respect and that they were safe.
It was still another hour before Fry eventually came out. But he did, peacefully, and Graham said when he did, two FBI negotiators walked over and joined them.
“They were just weeping uncontrollably, just thanking God that no one was hurt,” Graham said.