A federal land-use protester killed at a police roadblock in Oregon Tuesday is being remembered by associates fro trying to calm tensions during the standoff, according to associates.
LaVoy Finicum died just a day short of his 56th birthday as Oregon State Police and the FBI moved to arrest leaders of the three-week protest at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Yet only days earlier, he had been instrumental in turning back truckloads of extremists who arrived to support the protesters.
Finicum, along with protest leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy and several others, were on the way to a public meeting Tuesday in the city of John Day, 70 miles due North of Burns. Police put up a roadblock and attempted to arrest them peacefully, but all didn't go to plan.
Ammon and his brother Ryan -- both sons of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who won an armed by blodless standoff with federal authorities in 2014 -- were arrested. Ryan received a minor gunshot wound and was treated at a hospital.
Finicum, an Arizona rancher and stalward supporter of the armed takeover at the remote federal property, was shot and killed. Although initial reports referred to a "firefight" between police and the protesters, authorities now say Finicum was shot while reaching into his waistband.
“His wife had traveled from Arizona to celebrate (his birthday),” the Oregonian newspaper reported.
“One individual who was a subject of a federal probable cause arrest (Finicum) is deceased,” the FBI initially reported.
Over the next few hours, police also made arrests in Burns itself of two men, one a known standoffer and the other an independent journalist, online talk show host Peter Santilli whom the feds charge was in cahoots with the occupiers. Law enforcement rounded up a man in Arizona on related charges.
Associates described Funicum was a complicated character. On the one hand, he had told reporters that he'd rather die than go to jail. On the other, he was instrumental in sending packing a convoy of much more hardcore militia who'd showed up to volunteer, explaining, “We want the long guns put away.”
Police have so far stayed away from Malheur, about 30 miles outside of Burns. The layout of the land – which this reporter observed while visiting the city and Refuge for several days earlier this month – suggests that any fighting over the refuge could be bloody for police, occupiers, and journalists.
Harney County Sheriff David Ward has made efforts to avoid that, at one point offering to personally guarantee the Bundys and others safe passage out of the state.
Environmental and land use regulations by the federal government, which owns and controls one out of every 3 acres in the United States, have become increasingly controversial as the Obama administration tightens rules and ranchers, some of whom have worked the same land for generations, complain that they are being driven out of business.
The January 2 takeover at the remote Malheur refuge was sparked the sentencing of ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond to mandatory five-year sentences for a controlled burn on their property that got out of hand and spread to federal land. Many locals considered this unfair because the mandatory sentence exists to combat terrorism, not clumsiness.
Many Oregonians, according to polls and conversations, are sick of the attention the conflict is bringing to their state. Many locals told AMI Newswire of their hope that the rest of the protesters might stand down peaceably now that the leadership of the Malheur occupation has been rounded up.
The Hammond case and the standoff have brought national attention to claims by ranchers and other westerners that the federal government has become overbearing in its management of land and that Washington owns far too much western land. While the Bundys and other supporters traveled to join the occupation, opponents called for harsher police enforcement, with the Washington Post and other publications saying recently that the failure to punish Cliven Bundy emboldened the Malheur protesters.