Last night, after nearly four weeks after taking control and illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon militant leader Ammon Bundy from Idaho was finally apprehended and arrested. Leroy Finnicum of Arizona, unofficial spokesperson of the armed occupiers also known as “Tarp Man” was shot and killed. Eyewitness reports say he charged police officers at a blockade after running his truck into a snowbank.
Also arrested were his brother, Ryan Bundy of Utah and followers Ryan Payne of Montana, Brian Cavalier (also known as “Fluffy Unicorn) of Nevada, Peter Santilli of Ohio, Joseph O’Shaughnessy of Arizona, and Shawna Cox of Utah. They were all charged with felony conspiracy to impede federal officers.
One of Finicum’s 11 children Arianna Finicum Brown 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 interviews given earlier this month with a rifle across his lap the 55 year old Finnicum said he’d rather be killed than arrested.
“I have no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box,” he told NBC News. “There are things more important than your life and freedom is one of them. I’m prepared to defend freedom.”
“Personally, I wish all this ended peacefully,” Jarvis Kennedy, Burns Paiute tribal council member, told ICTMN after hearing the news, “We certainly didn’t want anyone to die. They could have just put down their arms.”
In a press conference given today FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing told reporters, “I will say that the armed occupiers were given ample opportunities to leave peacefully. They were given the opportunity to negotiate. As outsiders to Oregon, they were given the opportunity to return to their homes and have their grievances heard through legal and appropriate means. They chose, instead, to threaten the very America they profess to love with violence, intimidation and criminal acts.
Yesterday, the FBI and our partners took the necessary actions to start bringing this situation to an end. We worked to ensure that we could do so in the safest way possible – removing the threat of danger from innocent citizens. We continue to work to empty the refuge of the armed occupiers in the safest way possible.”
This crackdown by law enforcement on Bundy and his followers came just 5 days after Burns Paiute tribal chairwoman Charlotte Roderique sent a second stern letter to the federal authorities rebuking the tactic of allowing, “armed militants to come and go from the Refuge as they please” and demanding they stop allowing them free passage to and from the refuge.
The chairwoman also expressed fears that “the lawbreakers who occupy the Malheur headquarters continue to seek outside financial support for their efforts. We fear that our tribal cultural patrimony provides an all too easy funding source for the militants.”
Oregon Governor Kate Brown also echoed Roderique’s concerns in her letter to federal authorities last week. In an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting she said the “situation is absolutely intolerable” and that “the very fabric of the Burns community is being ripped apart by this occupation.”
Most moving today was the statement by Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward whose family has been personally harassed and intimidated by the out of state armed militants. His wife was forced to go into hiding.
“The occupation at the refuge and actions of some of the folks down there have created a lot of stress in our community,” Ward carefully recounted to the gathered crowd at Harney County Chamber of Commerce today, “It hasn’t been isolated to the refuge, a point that gets missed in the media coverage. Some of these folks spent a lot of time in town trying to stir some issues. If it was a matter of just waiting out some folks to get out of some buildings, we could have waited a lot longer but this has been tearing our community apart.”
“It’s time for everyone in this illegal occupation to move on,” the sheriff of this community of 7,000 said and then he added, his voice breaking, “There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community.
(When) we have issues with the way things are going in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act in an appropriate manner. We don’t arm up and rebel. We work through the appropriate channels. This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America and it can’t happen in Harney County.”
However, Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the rancher who successfully held an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over 1 million dollars in unpaid grazing fees in Nevada, told the Los Angeles Times, “’I have some sons and other people there trying to protect our rights and liberties and freedoms, and now we’ve got 1 killed, and all I can say is, he’s sacrificed for a good purpose.”
Reports are Bundy supporters are putting out calls for reinforcements to the refuge. Operation Mutual Defense, a network of militias and patriot sympathizers posted on its website, “You have an obligation to proceed to the Harney County Resource Center (the wildlife refuge) immediately. If you fail to arrive, you will demonstrate by your own actions that your previous statements to defend life, liberty, and property were false.”
John Sepulvado, a reporter with Oregon Public Broadcasting spoke this morning with the 5-6 militants who remain at the refuge and identified Jason Patrick as the new leader. They told him they were not leaving saying, “we’re not cowards like the rest,” and insisted they are still prepared to die.
In a live-streamed feed from the refuge this morning, an occupier can be heard saying, “This is a free-for-all Armageddon. Any military overseas come here and fight for your country,” and, “If they stop you from getting here kill them! They want to see a bloodbath here. The FBI wants murder.”
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler