On Tuesday, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, a rancher and spokesman for an armed band that has illegally occupied the federally-owned Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon since January 2, was killed in a shootout with FBI agents on Tuesday. As Reuters reported, the shootout began around 4:25 PM local time after authorities stopped a car carrying protest leader Ammon Bundy along Highway 395, just outside the refuge. Bundy and four other senior members of the group were taken into custody following the confrontation. According to the Oregonian, Bundy was traveling to a community meeting in the city of John Day, where he was scheduled to be a guest speaker.
The newspaper said 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, Ammon's brother, also suffered a minor gunshot wound.
Three other people associated with the group were arrested shortly after the Bundy stop. State police nabbed 50-year-old Peter Santilli, a journalist who live streamed events at the refuge, in Burns, Oregon. Another man associated with the occupation turned himself in to cops in Peoria, Arizona, the New York Times reports. Everyone arrested faces federal charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers.
On Tuesday night, activists said the FBI was beginning to set up a perimeter around the refuge, which the militia has occupied as a form of protest. The Bundy Ranch Facebook page urged its followers to "pray very hard" about an incoming convoy, signaling, perhaps, that this whole thing might be over soon. The not-so-long saga is the result of the Bundy-led militia claiming to have occupied the Malheur Refuge in support of two local ranchers, Dwight and Steve Hammond, who were sent to prison earlier this month for setting fires that reached federal land. (The Hammonds have indicated repeatedly that they have no affiliation with the occupiers, and that they do not speak for the family.) The occupiers are also angry generally about restrictions on how ranchers can make use of federally-owned land throughout the American West—an issue that also led to a standoff between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Ammon's father Cliven Bundy in 2014.
Watch the VICE News documentary about the occupation:
Already, ominous theories about the nature of Tuesday's fatal shooting and arrests have begun to creep up on the rightward reaches of the internet. "BOMBSHELL: Rancher LaVoy Finicum Shot and Killed by Feds While he was laying face down in the street" read one headline on woundedamericanwarrior.com. "Tonight peaceful patriots were attacked on a remote road for supporting the constitution. One was killed. Who are the terrorists?" offers one of several memes spinning the incident on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page. Another says, "LaVoy Finicum stood for your children's liberty. So our government murdered him while he was unarmed with his hands in the air. Who stands with liberty."
The occupiers and some of their supporters seem to be suggesting that Finicum had surrendered and was killed in cold blood. One of the remaining occupiers, Jason Patrick, told Reuters by phone that "the government can kill who it wants for whatever reason it wants with impunity," and compared Finicum to Tamir Rice, the unarmed 12-year-old African-American boy fatally shot outside a Cleveland recreation center in 2014 by a police officer who was never charged.
Earlier this month Finicum told NBC News that he'd rather die than be detained. He also apparently wrote a post-apocalyptic book about a man who stood up to government and got in a shootout with officers, as BuzzFeed reported earlier this month.
At least one man claiming to have been at the scene, Mark McConnell, disputes the speculation that Finicum played no role in his own demise. On Wednesday, McConnell took to Facebook in the form of a video to give a detailed account of the confrontation in which he suggests Finicum first fled authorities and then charged law enforcement on foot after his truck was stuck in a snow bank.
"Levoy was very passionate about the movement, about what we were doing up here," McConnell said in the video. "This game, it's over. This stage of the game is over, it's time to bring on the next stage."
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