The Oregon Militia that has been living in a Federal building that they took hostage last year have finally been met with force by law enforcement.
The Oregon protesters, who are protesting the arson arrest of two of their men, have now lost one of their members and their leader after a bloody standoff with police.
Ammon Bundy, leader of the month-long militant occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, was arrested Tuesday in a highway confrontation with law enforcement that killed one of his followers and wounded another, according to the FBI.
Bundy and four followers, including his brother, Ryan, were arrested during a traffic stop in which shots were fired, the FBI said in a statement. Killed was Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, who had acted as spokesman for the armed group of occupiers, according to the Bundy Ranch.
The FBI said the shootings happened when agents, along with Oregon state troopers, “began an enforcement action” on Highway 395 to arrest people involved in the armed occupation on charges of conspiracy to impede federal officials from discharging their duties.
“During that arrest, there were shots fired,” the FBI said. “One individual who was a subject of a federal probable cause arrest is deceased. … One individual suffered non-life threatening injuries.”
Finicum, a rancher from Arizona with 11 foster children, made headlines this month after conducting an interview from beneath a blue tarp on live television while carrying a rifle on his lap. During another interview with NBC, Finicum said he was willing to die rather than be arrested and cautioned authorities against pointing a gun at him.
“I have no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box,” he said. “There are things more important than your life and freedom is one of them.”
A sixth person involved in the occupation was arrested about 90 minutes after the highway stop in Burns, the FBI said.
Independent radio host Peter Santilli, who has been live-streaming from the refuge, also was arrested in Burns around 6:30 p.m., the FBI said. He faces the same felony charges as the others. Jon Ritzheimer, a militant who released a video of himself opening packages sent to the reserve that turned out to be sex toys, turned himself in to authorities in Arizona on conspiracy charges.
Bundy and several other militants occupying the refuge had been expected to attend a meeting in the town on Tuesday evening.
The occupation was spearheaded by the Bundy brothers, sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, as a protest against the treatment of two local ranchers jailed for arson who were ordered to return to prison after a federal judge ruled their original sentences were not long enough. Occupiers also sought to put federal land under local control, ripping up government fences to make their point. The armed anti-government group had occupied a building in the Malheur refuge since early January.
The community had a complicated relationship with the outsiders from the start. Locals packed a fairgrounds building to discuss what to do about the situation, and overwhelmingly voted in a straw poll for the occupiers to leave. The Paiute tribe, who occupied much of Harney County prior to white settlement, also held a meeting urging the protesters to go home. But while ranchers disagreed with the protesters’ tactics, some shared their frustrations about how the federal government controls large swathes of western land.
While the group, calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, bragged that they had community support, they failed to amass many members. They were a motley crew united by a distrust of government. Ammon Bundy emerged as a regular face of the movement, as did Finicum and Ritzheimer, who organizes anti-Islam rallies. When asked by a reporter why they were protesting with firearms, Ritzheimer — who had a gun strapped to his pants — said, “because our government is armed.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called on federal authorities to end the occupation last week, criticizing what appeared at the time to be the government’s lack of response. She said the militants had cost taxpayers nearly a half-million dollars.
“This spectacle of lawlessness must end,” Brown said at a press conference. “I will not stop insisting that federal officials enforce the law.”
Early Wednesday, Brown urged the public to remain patient while the authorities worked to end the standoff.
Cliven Bundy, who butted heads with the federal government in 2014, decried the arrest of two of his sons in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“We believe that those federal people shouldn’t even be there in that state, and be in that county and have anything to do with this issue,” he said. “… Now we’ve got one killed, and all I can say is, he’s sacrificed for a good purpose.”