Malheur anti-government militant Robert "LaVoy" Finicum's Twitter bio reads "Rancher, Loves Freedom and willing to fight and die defending it." Now, 25 days after the militants took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in Burns, Oregon, to protest unfair government treatment of ranchers, those words proved to be chillingly prophetic. Finicum died yesterday in an armed confrontation with police on Highway 395 during which five people were arrested, including militant leader Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan Bundy, who was wounded.
Even with the Bundys gone, occupiers remain on the compound. While some members—including then-leader Blaine Cooper—have listened to the police and left peacefully, about 10 people are still holding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Speaking to USA Today, newly appointed militia leader Jason Patrick was critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Oregon police's attempts to end the standoff. "Sounds like the definition of peaceful resolution is either forcefully kidnapping me or death," he said. "A peaceful resolution is not dead people." According to Patrick, the remaining militants took a vote, and the majority have decided to stay.
So don't expect the occupation to end quickly or peacefully. As Aaron Bady explained for Pacific Standard, the Bundys have a very specific worldview, one in which their occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is truly a stand for freedom, and the government's imprisonment of the Hammonds is the first step toward seizing land from its rightful owners. Bady writes:
This claim makes more sense if you assume that Obama really is a secret socialist, and that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by subversionary elements seeking to establish totalitarian rule over the American people. And a lot of Americans do believe these things. The Bundys accuse the Bureau of Land Management (along with the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies) not of enforcing the law, but of conspiring to "restrict man from the use of the land" as an end in itself. There is therefore no point in trying to "reform" how the BLM manages public lands. If this government's actual goal is tyranny—and control of the land and its resources is the instrument it uses—then public lands are only a battlefield; seizing them is a strike against tyranny, but only a first step. One has only to take these "patriots" at their word to see that they are not reformists but revolutionaries.
Instead of looking for compromise, the militants have doubled down on their anti-government narrative, claiming that Finicum was murdered and had his hands up when he was shot. Now, as the FBI sets up checkpoints and increases security around the compound, Oregon faces the possibility of further violence.
"The leaders of this group are now in custody and I hope that the remaining individuals occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will peacefully surrender so this community can begin to heal the deep wounds that this illegal activity has created over the last month," said Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley in a statement delivered yesterday.
According to the Oregonian, those arrested in connection with the occupation face felony charges of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats. The maximum sentence is six years in prison.