By John Friend —
The standoff taking place in southeastern Oregon took a dramatic turn in the late afternoon hours on Tuesday, January 26.
According to local reports, Ammon Bundy, the leader of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and a number of other individuals close to him are now in federal custody after being stopped by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Oregon State Police on US Highway 395 roughly 20 miles north of Burns, Oregon.
Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, who AMERICAN FREE PRESS interviewed while at the Refuge, was reportedly killed by law enforcement officers. Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s older brother, was shot and wounded during the violent confrontation, and was subsequently taken into federal custody.
Also arrested were Joseph D. O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Arizona, and Pete Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati, the combative Internet broadcaster known for his showboating and aggressive manner while recording and live streaming during the standoff. Both men face conspiracy charges of impeding federal officers.
Bundy and his entourage were reportedly traveling to a community meeting that was organized and scheduled by residents in the town of John Day, a small community just north of Burns. The Oregonian, one of the largest newspapers in the state, reported that several hundred locals gathered at the John Day Senior Center before being told Bundy and his supporters would not be speaking at the event.
At 4:25 pm PST, FBI officials and the Oregon State Police released a joint statement describing “an enforcement action to bring into custody a number of individuals associated with the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” according to the press release. “During that arrest, there were shots fired.”
“There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them,” Finicum said.
Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who has supported the Bundys in the past, told local media outlets that Ammon Bundy called his wife after being detained by law enforcement authorities, informing her that Finicum was cooperating with law enforcement officials before being shot and killed. That allegation has not yet been confirmed.
“My dad was such a good good man, through and through,” Arianna Finicum Brown, 26, one of Finicum’s 11 children, told The Oregonian. “He would never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved.”
In an interview with The Oregonian on Monday, January 25, Finicum noted that “the tenor has changed” between his entourage and the federal authorities they were negotiating with. “They’re doing all the things that shows that they want to take some kinetic action against us,” Finicum told The Oregonian.
The violent confrontation between law enforcement authorities and the protesters came days after county and state officials in Oregon insisted the federal government intervene, forcefully if necessary, to end the occupation.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with at least five other individuals associated with the occupation, are currently in federal custody. They are facing “a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 372,” according to the official statement.
Tensions had been rising in southeastern Oregon as the standoff at the Refuge in Harney County entered its fourth week. On January 20, Oregon governor Katherine “Kate” Brown submitted a letter to the U.S. Justice Department and FBI Director James Comey urging federal officials to take “swift” action against the occupiers.
“While it is easy to assume that an occupation in such a remote location does not threaten public safety and does not harm any victims, that perception is far from accurate,” the governor stated in her letter. Governor Brown described the occupiers as “armed criminals who appear to be seeking occasions for confrontation,” an allegation Ammon Bundy, Finicum, and other leaders of the occupation strongly disagreed with.
The Oregon governor went on to insist that the federal government find a prompt resolution to the standoff, and end the occupation of the Refuge. “Efforts to negotiate have not been successful, and now it is unclear what steps, if any, federal authorities might take to bring this untenable situation to an end and restore normalcy to to this community.”
The Oregonian, Oregon’s leading newspaper, also published an editorial urging the occupiers to end their protest and leave town on the same day Governor Brown issued her letter to federal authorities.
On Monday, January 25, Harney County Judge Steven E. Grasty, joining Governor Brown in her call for swift action against the protesters occupying the Refuge, argued the time is now for federal authorities to bring an end to the occupation.
“They need to move, they need to make a decision,” Grasty recently stated. “Are they going to arrest these people? Are they going to blockade the facility?”
Federal authorities had emphasized their desire to take an extremely cautious approach to handling the standoff in an effort to avoid violence. Those participating in the occupation and protest also emphasized they were not instigating or enticing a violent confrontation with law enforcement authorities either. They insisted that they were simply interested in having their legitimate grievances addressed by the proper authorities.
As we know now, those desires did not play out.
At various community meetings in Harney County over the course of the past two weeks, local residents expressed their disapproval of the ongoing occupation and the outsiders behind it. Although numerous Harney County residents, including ranchers and private property owners, sympathize with the Hammonds and are critical of many of the federal government’s land management policies in the county, many locals are getting tired of the occupation and the disruption it is causing to their daily lives.
“You should just go home, and I hope somebody catches you on the way, and you go to jail where you deserve to be,” Isabelle Fleuraud, pointing at Ammon Bundy from across the bleachers, stated at a community meeting held on January 19 in Burns, the county seat.
Supporters of Harney County ranchers Dwight L. and Steven D. Hammond, who surrendered to federal authorities in early January, took over a number of federal buildings on the National Refuge on January 2 in protest of the re-sentencing of the Hammonds following a federal appeal of their original sentence.
The protesters and occupiers have maintained that the Hammonds, as well as other local ranchers and private property owners in Oregon and across the United States, have been harassed, mistreated, and intimidated by federal agencies maintaining vast amounts of land owned by the federal government. The federal government has no Constitutional authority to even own the land, protesters claim.
Ammon Bundy, the iconic leader of the occupation now in federal custody, and others submitted a detailed redress of grievance to local and state officials in Oregon in December, emphasizing the plight of the Hammonds and the unjust treatment they have received by the federal government. Thus far, the issues and concerns they have raised with officials have yet to be responded to and addressed.
Local and federal authorities have asserted that the demands issued by the occupiers, which include releasing the Hammonds from federal prison as well as ending federal ownership and management of grazing land and the massive Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, are not feasible and contrary to established law and legal precedents.
County officials, including Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward and Grasty, were entirely unwilling to even engage with Bundy and his entourage, at least when it came to addressing their concerns with federal management of vast amounts of land in Harney County. According to a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal agency responsible for managing and maintaining land owned by the federal government, the BLM manages over 60% of the county.
Bundy and his supporters engaged in dialogue with representatives of the FBI late last week in an effort to resolve the ongoing standoff. However, on Friday, January 22, Bundy questioned the FBI’s legal authority to operate in Harney County. In a confrontation with Harney County sheriff’s officials, Bundy demanded to know whether or not Harney County officials granted the FBI authority to operate in the county. Harney County officials informed Bundy the FBI did in fact have permission to operate, and that local and state agencies were working closely with the federal government in their response to the standoff.
John Friend is a California-based writer who maintains a blog.