PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Harney County sheriff says those who took over a national wildlife refuge warned him that his county would be "invaded" by armed citizens if he didn't protect his constituents from the federal government.
Sheriff Dave Ward testified Wednesday against seven defendants who took part in the 41-day standoff earlier this year. They're charged with threatening and intimidating federal employees.
Before the occupation, Ward says group leader Ammon Bundy and another man urged the sheriff to protect two local ranchers who faced additional prison time for setting fires on federal lands.
Ward also said he got an email from defendant Neil Wampler, saying the sheriff needed to protect residents from an abusive government or "see your county invaded by the most determined and organized - and armed - citizens alive in this country."
Ward said that Ammon Bundy never physically threatened him before and during the takeover, but he said the Bundy-led protest at the refuge was "absolutely not a peaceful occupation." Ward described it as an armed clearing of a room that included military-style tactics.
Bundy's attorney, Marcus Mumford, asked the sheriff about a cordial meeting he had with Bundy a few days into the occupation. In a clip of the meeting, Ward offered Bundy safe passage out of Oregon while praising the leader for getting his message out to the world.
Ward said he wasn't there to pick a fight. He just wanted them to leave.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the armed standoff said they came to Oregon's high desert country to help locals deal with an overreaching federal government that has abused people's land rights for decades.
Occupier Ryan Bundy said as the federal trial began Tuesday that the protesters came to enforce the law, and that he wasn't anti-government.
But in opening statements prosecutors said Bundy and the other protesters broke the law when they threatened and intimidated federal employees during the 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.
The trial is expected to last until November.