A county shattered, in mourning, in relief, in disbelief. Confusion. Eleven arrested. One dead. Four are still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, asking yet another preposterous ransom, freedom from arrest.
We wanted a peaceful resolution, and we almost got it the first time around. The FBI and local law enforcement found the perfect place for a roadblock ambush up a steep canyon towards John Day, which is 70 miles from Burns. They chose a place up canyon near a major campground where they could hide their vehicles until showdown.
Car number one was stopped at the first blockade. Ammon Bundy and Brian Cavalier (“Booda”) were arrested. Drive Mike McConnell, a relative newcomer to the refuge, was taken into custody, questioned and then later released.
Behind them was the diesel truck that was being driven by Lavoy Finicum, that held Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Shawna Cox, and Victoria Sharp, an 18 year old member of the Sharp Family Singers, a bluegrass gospel group from Kansas that was scheduled to sing at the meeting in John Day. Lavoy stopped, then cut and run, saw the second blockade, swerved to avoid it, plowed into a snow bank, got out of the truck, and was shot. Four eyewitness accounts agree up to here.
Accounts begin to diverge about the actual shooting. According to a phone call that Bundy apparently made to his wife from the back of a police car, Lavoy was shot while he was on his knees with his hands up in the air.
According to Mike McConnell, Shawna Cox told him that Lavoy and Ryan Payne had a heated discussion and “The next thing Lavoy is out of the car and charging towards law officers. “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqMuM7u6ph8
Then there’s the account by Victoria, who regarded the men at the refuge as heroes. Victoria must have felt quite the pride and self-importance riding with them in the car. What did she think when she saw the police convoy stopping the front car and Lavoy deciding to try an end run before crashing into the snow bank. According to her, “With the car running, Finicum got out of the car and he had his hands in the air and he was like, saying ‘Just shoot me, just shoot me.’ And they did. They shot him dead.” She did not report that he was saying, “I surrender, don’t shoot.”
She reported her story in an audio feed to right-wing reporter Pete Santilli in a car some hours after the takedown after she had been talked to and released by the police. You can hear the hysteria in her voice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y92PvMFL0Eg
Then there’s the official account by the SWAT team., followed by a video taken from an airplane: “Finicum, with police in hot pursuit, attempted to leave the main road and drove into a snow bank. When he emerged from the vehicle, FBI and state police ordered him to surrender. That’s when, authorities say, Finicum reached down toward his waistband where he had a gun. The SWAT team opened fire. Finicum was killed. Ryan Bundy suffered a light wound on his arm.” http://www.opb.org/news/series/burns-oregon-standoff-bundy-militia-news-updates/fbi-standoff-continues-release-video-of-finicum-death/
Now there will be trial by media and social media. Many, including Finicum’s family and Cliven Bundy, will believe that he was shot in cold blood, dying for the cause he believed in, a martyr. Others say, ‘Suicide by cop.’
Perhaps we might reflect that there weren’t more deaths that night in a very tense situation. Perhaps we might speculate that Lavoy’s death spared his family of the grief of watching their finances drain out in a long trial that would probably have ended up with Lavoy in jail. Better to regard him as a hero than as some deranged madman. Better to reflect that Victoria Sharp was released. That poor girl will hear bullets in her head hitting the truck as she crouched down in the cab of that truck forever. Hundreds and hundreds of bullets, she said. “Ten to fifteen minutes.”
Even if peaceful resolution had gone down without bloodshed, there would still be trauma and sadness. There was already a great deal of sympathy for the men that occupied the refuge in our community, one among many issues that have divided the community here.
Some of these men certainly had that old West charisma about them, the good outlaws with the big hats, a mythology wrapped up pretty good into their psyches and that of their followers. They were revolutionary heroes, brandishing guns of righteousness and spouting God and the Constitution. Nobody had more freedom of speech and a bigger bully pulpit than they did. They spouted off to every media outlet they could at every opportunity. The coverage was immense—more perhaps than Donald Trump.
Did they think their arrogant lawlessness would grant them immunity and freedom from consequences?
I hope that letting some of the occupiers of the refuge leave peacefully does not mean that they will be free of arrest at some future time. Selective enforcement towards some would open more wounds. Already people are asking why Mike McConnell was allowed to go free?
Early on in the occupation of the refuge, Ammon Bundy talked about ‘federal agencies putting one family under duress.’ His payback was to put an entire county in duress. Bundy and others scoffed at the ‘small fires’ set by the Hammonds. Their payback was to unleash an emotional firestorm and, now, a hugely expensive legal fight. They talked about their grand plans to help restore the economy by turning over federal lands to local control. Instead they’ve caused financial chaos. Millions of dollars. Who will pay those bills? Who bears the cost of the emotional bills?
These are not my kind of heroes.
The invasion of these outlaws into our community meant that many residents felt they were being held hostage to preposterous ransoms. Many were afraid and intimidated, their emotional privacy violated. As the numbers of militants from out of town grew. and are still growing, many of us felt as though we were living inside some kind of weird outlaw convention under the spotlight of an incredible cadre of media and an equally incredible cadre of law enforcement. Our local law enforcement and county and city officials suffer great tension. It’s been a no-win for everyone involved, and there is no real end in sight.
At some point, everyone from out of town will go home and leave us alone to heal our wounds. Perhaps then we can find some new conversation; some positive solutions to old challenges. Out of chaos often comes a renewed sense of purpose and unity.
What new directions and hope will we find?
The photographer of the featured image of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photographer. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Audobon, National Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with permission from www.SteveTerrill.com. Thank you.