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February 2, 2016 25

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum: The Making of a Martyr

On Jan­u­ary 26, 2016, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, one of the anti-government extrem­ists involved in the Jan­u­ary 2 armed takeover of the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge head­quar­ters near Burns, Ore­gon, was fatally wounded by Ore­gon State Police (OSP) troop­ers dur­ing an attempt by the OSP and the FBI to arrest Finicum and a num­ber of key occupiers.

Helicopter footage of shooting of "LaVoy" Finicum (middle) as he seems to reach for a weapon.

Heli­copter footage of shoot­ing of “LaVoy” Finicum (mid­dle) as he seems to reach for a weapon.

Finicum, along with occu­pa­tion leader Ammon Bundy and oth­ers, were trav­el­ing in two vehi­cles to attend a com­mu­nity meet­ing in John Day, Ore­gon, where they hoped to find sup­port for their armed seizure. See­ing an oppor­tu­nity to appre­hend most of the takeover lead­ers away from the refuge and its many armed extrem­ists, the FBI and the OSP orga­nized a traf­fic stop with road­blocks along the rural road to John Day. One of the two vehi­cles stopped and its occu­pants were removed peacefully.

The other vehi­cle, dri­ven by Finicum, fled the traf­fic stop, only to encounter a road­block a short dis­tance away. Per­haps attempt­ing to evade the road­block, Finicum drove his vehi­cle into a snow­bank, nar­rowly miss­ing the police vehi­cles and an officer.

While other occu­pants stayed in the vehicle—possibly trapped by the snowbank—Finicum rushed out into the snow. Video footage shot from a heli­copter shows a trooper approach­ing Finicum with the trooper’s weapon drawn. Though Finicum had emerged from the vehi­cle with his hands par­tially raised, upon see­ing the trooper he appears to have reached for some­thing under his jacket (author­i­ties later con­firmed he had a firearm). A sec­ond trooper emerged from the woods behind Finicum, which Finicum seems to have heard, because he turned around and once more reached into his jacket. Upon see­ing this motion, the sec­ond trooper fired shots at Finicum, killing him. Ryan Bundy, another vehi­cle occu­pant, suf­fered a minor gun­shot wound, appar­ently from a stray bullet.

 

Man­u­fac­tur­ing a Folk Hero

The deci­sion by fed­eral and state author­i­ties to make the arrest attempt was in some respects a risky one, not only because offi­cers could be wounded or killed by extrem­ists, but also because the wound­ing or death of any of the occu­piers could have neg­a­tive con­se­quences in terms of enrag­ing the extreme right and pos­si­bly prompt­ing acts of violence.

The arrests did dis­rupt and demor­al­ize the Mal­heur occu­piers, most of whom soon left the refuge, while a few oth­ers were arrested. As of this writ­ing, only four hold­outs at the refuge remain, pri­mar­ily because there is a fed­eral charge against one of them that they want dropped before they will surrender.

How­ever, the death of Finicum unfor­tu­nately pro­vided adher­ents of the so-called “Patriot” move­ment (which includes mili­tia groups, sov­er­eign cit­i­zens, and other anti-government extrem­ists) with some­thing that author­i­ties had hoped to avoid: a poten­tial mar­tyr around whom anti-government extrem­ists could rally. More­over, anger over Finicum’s death could pos­si­bly spawn acts of vio­lent ret­ri­bu­tion. Rage over deadly stand­offs between fringe groups and indi­vid­u­als at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and Waco, Texas, in 1993 played a major role in spark­ing the resur­gence of right-wing extrem­ism in the mid-1990s that led to the Okla­homa City bomb­ing and many other acts of vio­lence or attempted violence.

Upon learn­ing of Finicum’s death, “Patriot” move­ment adher­ents imme­di­ately claimed that he was mur­dered, though ini­tial accounts from other occu­pants of the vehi­cles were con­fused and con­tra­dic­tory. The FBI pub­licly released the heli­copter video rather quickly—in a clear attempt to quell rumors about the shooting—and, to most view­ers, the shoot­ing is likely to appear to have been jus­ti­fied. How­ever, anti-government extrem­ists watch­ing the video have per­ceived largely what they wanted to see on it and have inter­preted the video as still more evi­dence that Finicum was mur­dered. Extrem­ists have widely shared the video, which is typ­i­cally described as proof of Finicum’s “ambush and murder.”

Even before the video was released, the process of turn­ing Finicum into a mar­tyr had already begun. As news of his death spread, extrem­ists on social media cre­ated a wide array of graphic memes pro­claim­ing Finicum a mar­tyred hero. One self-declared “lib­erty speaker” from Wash­ing­ton state, Gavin Seim, uploaded a short video about Finicum titled “The Edge of Rev­o­lu­tion.” In the video, Seim describes Finicum as “one of the finest patri­ots that Amer­ica could hope to have,” who showed peo­ple “what it was like to be a found­ing father.” Seim urged view­ers to “rise for lib­erty,” claim­ing that “we can no longer allow the gov­ern­ment to mur­der and abuse and terrorize…These crim­i­nals spilled blood yes­ter­day.” Within two days, Seim’s video had received over 110,000 views.

Sim­i­larly, musi­cian Jor­dan Page posted his own video, widely shared on social media, singing a song of his own com­po­si­tion, “The Bal­lad of LaVoy Finicum,” intended to make a folk hero out of the anti-government occupier:

He left his home to go and take a stand
His voice rang out across a deaf­ened land
And in the end it was a bul­let that exposed the lies
A truth remem­bered is a bat­tle won
And though his mur­der can­not be undone,
It rings out like an echo, thun­der­ing across the night

Page’s song was the most pop­u­lar of sev­eral songs related to Finicum’s shoot­ing that have appeared on YouTube or elsewhere.

One osten­si­ble Finicum sup­porter is using a t-shirt web­site to sell “LaVoy Finicum Memo­r­ial” t-shirts for $21.99, with pro­ceeds promised to go to the Finicum family—just one of the web­sites now sell­ing Finicum t-shirts and sweat­shirts. Another sup­porter announced the auc­tion of a framed print of a painting—starting bid, $2,500—with the pro­ceeds allegedly going “to the Bundy Ranch and/or a fund for Levon [sic] Finicum memorial.”

 

Chan­nelling Anger: Ral­lies, Protests, Memo­ri­als and Vigils

As quickly as news of Finicum’s death spread, sup­port­ers of the Mal­heur takeover began to orga­nize events—rallies, protests, vig­ils, and memorials—centered on the dead occu­pier and designed to raise sor­row and anger over his death. As early as the day after the shoot­ing, occu­pier sup­port­ers (and, allegedly, some for­mer occu­piers) held a small “can­dle­light vigil” in Burns, Oregon.

In south­west­ern Utah, Finicum’s home, sup­port­ers orga­nized a memo­r­ial for him in front of the Iron County cour­t­house. The event seems to have included at least one for­mer occu­pier in atten­dance, but its cen­ter­piece was Iron County Com­mis­sioner Dave Miller, who called the death of Finicum a “trav­esty” and hoped “the truth” would come out. Other regional events, includ­ing one for the Paiute County cour­t­house, were allegedly also held.

In Phoenix, Finicum sup­port­ers Israel Tor­res and Blanka Nieves, who had pre­vi­ously held sup­port ral­lies for the Ore­gon occu­piers, orga­nized a “We Are LaVoy” rally on Jan­u­ary 29 at Wes­ley Bolin Plaza, with around 30 or so atten­dees. Another protest was allegedly orga­nized in Port­land, Oregon.

Las Vegas, Nevada, saw a hand­ful of Tea Party activists and anti-government extrem­ists led by Karen Steel­mon and Greg Whalen (the lat­ter of whom was in tele­phone con­tact with the remain­ing occu­piers in Ore­gon) orga­nize their own impromptu demon­stra­tion in front of the fed­eral cour­t­house soon after the shoot­ing. They declared that Finicum, who had “been defend­ing Amer­i­can soil from a tyran­ni­cal gov­ern­ment,” was ambushed and mur­dered by the FBI. The pair also orga­nized a sec­ond Las Vegas cour­t­house rally on the week­end fol­low­ing the shoot­ing; 12–15 peo­ple seem to have par­tic­i­pated in that event.

Other events also occurred on the week­end of Jan­u­ary 30–31. The one most cov­ered by the media occurred in the long-suffering town of Burns itself, where the anti-government Pacific Patri­ots Net­work orga­nized a “rolling” protest of vehi­cles through the town; esti­mates of the num­ber of pro­test­ers ranged from 50 to over 100. With another rally orga­nized by Idaho Three Per­centers at the Har­ney County Cour­t­house in Burns for Feb­ru­ary 1, it is clear that Burns’ ordeal is not likely to end soon. Both of these groups declined to sup­port the Mal­heur occu­piers’ ear­lier actions but have jumped into the con­flict with the death of Finicum. Oth­ers trav­eled out to the loca­tion where Finicum was shot and erected a makeshift memorial.

Protests and ral­lies occurred out­side Ore­gon as well. Heather Lucas and Mike Kay orga­nized a Finicum protest at the FBI office in Colum­bus, Ohio, with around 45–50 attend­ing from right-wing groups and Anony­mous. “Rev­o­lu­tion starts here,” said one speaker, “Make no mistake.”

Else­where in Ohio, a hand­ful of activists in Lima, Ohio, hung signs and protested on a free­way over­pass on I-75. One pro­tester posted on Face­book after the event that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment let “riot­ers burn, loot and assault in Fer­gu­son and Bal­ti­more but when a patriot stands up peace­ful [sic] for his con­sti­tu­tional rights he is gunned down by the fed­eral government.”

A sim­i­lar over­pass protest occurred on Jan­u­ary 30 across the coun­try in Salem, Ore­gon, with about 10 pro­test­ers. Both were appar­ently orga­nized by activists with right-wing group “Over­passes for Amer­ica.” More such over­pass protests are sched­uled for the first week­end in Feb­ru­ary in Ore­gon and elsewhere.

That week­end, the week­end of Feb­ru­ary 5–7, is when a num­ber of addi­tional events will be held. Of these, the most sig­nif­i­cant is the memo­r­ial ser­vice for Finicum in Kanab, Utah, orga­nized by his fam­ily, who turned it into a polit­i­cal event by reach­ing out and announc­ing it to “Patriot” and right-wing groups to get their atten­dance. Karen Steel­mon, the Las Vegas Tea Party fig­ure men­tioned above, announced she was orga­niz­ing a “pro­ces­sion” of peo­ple from the Las Vegas area to “pay respects” at the memo­r­ial ser­vice. Utahn and for­mer Mal­heur occu­pier Wes Kjar has declared he will orga­nize a “memo­r­ial horse ride” to the service.

For those too far from Kanab, Finicum sup­port­ers have orga­nized the “National Memo­r­ial & Prayer Vigil for LaVoy Finicum,” for which they urge peo­ple to gather in front of “your local cour­t­house” on Feb­ru­ary 5 or the fol­low­ing day.

Other events known to be planned for the week­end include:

  • The Lib­erty for All III% have announced a “Cowboy’s Last Ride” protest in Olympia, Wash­ing­ton, for the week­end of Feb­ru­ary 5–7, declar­ing that they “will never allow one more inno­cent per­son to die at the hands of the Government.”
  • In Boise, Idaho, some­one call­ing him­self “1776Revolutionist” is orga­niz­ing the “RIP Lavoy Rally” at the Boise capi­tol build­ing; atten­dees are requested to bring “Hands up, don’t shoot” signs.
  • In John Day, Ore­gon, the town to which Finicum was dri­ving when his vehi­cle was stopped, Rae­lene Hunt-Reed and Tyson Baker are orga­niz­ing a can­dle­light ser­vice for Finicum.
  • Hunt-Reed and Brian Win­ters have also sched­uled a “can­dle­light memo­r­ial” for Finicum at the Crook County cour­t­house in Prineville, Ore­gon. This would be the sec­ond rally for Prineville; oth­ers orga­nized a Feb­ru­ary 1 “Mem­ory of LaVoy Finicum and All Our Patri­ots” rally at the courthouse.
  • Ari­zona activists are orga­niz­ing a Finicum can­dle­light vigil at Mesa RiverView Park on Feb­ru­ary 6, allegedly with “guest speaker Alexan­der Melusky.” Melusky is run­ning for Sen­ate in Ari­zona; it is not known if he is actu­ally appear­ing at this event.
  • Ken­tucky Three Per­center George Al Collins has announced a “rally and memo­r­ial ser­vice in remem­brance of LaVoy Finicum” at the capi­tol build­ing in Frank­fort, Ken­tucky, on Feb­ru­ary 6.
  • John Adams is orga­niz­ing a can­dle­light vigil for Finicum at the West Vir­ginia capi­tol build­ing in Charleston, West Vir­ginia, on Feb­ru­ary 6.
  • Krista Etter of West Palm Beach, Florida, is arrang­ing a rally at the fed­eral cour­t­house on Feb­ru­ary 6.
  • North­east Ohio Three Per­centers are allegedly plan­ning an event on Feb­ru­ary 7 in front of the FBI build­ing in down­town Cleve­land, Ohio.
  • In Ruck­ersville, Vir­ginia, Michael Mad­den, the owner of The Con­fed­er­ate Keep­ers Store, has sched­uled a “Rally/Protest of the MURDER of LaVoy Finicum” for Feb­ru­ary 7, with the loca­tion oddly being a con­ve­nience store.
  • Col­orado anti-government extrem­ists are orga­niz­ing a Feb­ru­ary 7 protest dubbed “#WAKETHEDEAD” in front of the FBI office.
  • Steve Bal­das­sari and Scott Henry have announced a rally at the Mass­a­chu­setts State House in Boston on Feb­ru­ary 6 “to fight for our rights, defend the Ore­gon ranch­ers, but also to honor LaVoy Jeanette Finicum, a true patriot.”
  • South Car­olina Three Per­centers are allegedly orga­niz­ing a “VIGIL AND A SHOT FOR FREEDOM MEET” on Feb­ru­ary 6 some­where in South Car­olina. It is not clear if this is related to a “LaVoy Finicum Trib­ute and Prayer Meet­ing” being orga­nized by Bob Har­grove for the Huger Recre­ation Area at the Fran­cis Mar­ion National For­est on Feb­ru­ary 6.

Ral­lies and protests even fur­ther in the future are also scheduled—likely to be merely the first of many. These include:

  • Arkansan Madonna Carter is orga­niz­ing a rally in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas, at the state capi­tol, for Feb­ru­ary 13.
  • A “We the Peo­ple” rally was orga­nized for Feb­ru­ary 13 in Colum­bus, Ohio, at the Ohio State House, even before Finicum’s death. Now atten­dance is likely to be even higher.
  • A “Lavoy Finicum Free the Bundys and Ham­mons March” in Bowl­ing Green, Ken­tucky, on March 5 to “honor one of our fel­low free­dom fight­ers who lost his life stand­ing up for what was right.”

It remains to be seen how suc­cess­ful the extreme right will be in ele­vat­ing Finicum to the pan­theon of extrem­ists con­sid­ered mar­tyrs by the move­ment, or whether their attempts to use Finicum to rally sup­port will be suc­cess­ful past the short term. The still-unresolved stand­off in Mal­heur, with its four hold­outs refus­ing to leave, also makes the future more uncer­tain. How­ever, what is clear is that anti-government extrem­ists are right now ener­get­i­cally try­ing to use Finicum’s death to rally sup­port for their cause and this in itself is troubling.

 

 

 

 

 

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January 27, 2016 0

Oregon Standoff: Developments

  • On Jan­u­ary 2, a loosely orga­nized group of armed anti-government extrem­ists led by Ammon Bundy seized con­trol of the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge head­quar­ters build­ings located near the town of Burns in remote south­east­ern Ore­gon.  They later named them­selves Cit­i­zens for Con­sti­tu­tional Freedom.oregon-standoff-arrest
  • On Tues­day, Jan­u­ary 26, Ammon Bundy and sev­eral oth­ers were arrested by fed­eral and state law enforce­ment offi­cers dur­ing a traf­fic stop near John Day, Ore­gon. LaVoy Finicum, who served as a spokesman for the group, was killed dur­ing the arrest; another occu­pier was slightly injured.  Two oth­ers were arrested in Burns, Ore­gon, while another occu­pier turned him­self in to author­i­ties in Arizona.
  • Those arrested so far include Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, Brian Cav­a­lier, Pete San­tilli, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Ryan Payne, and Jon Ritzheimer. For back­ground infor­ma­tion on all of the occu­piers who were arrested or killed, as well as many of the other remain­ing occu­piers and allies who has been at the wildlife refuge head­quar­ters, see: The Occu­piers of the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge Head­quar­ters.
  • Although some occu­piers have report­edly left the Mal­heur refuge head­quar­ters, oth­ers remain.

LATEST UPDATES

4:15 PM (EST) oregon call to violenceOccu­pier Sean Ander­son cradling an assault rifle and urg­ing peo­ple to come to the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge appeared on a YouTube live stream ear­lier today and said: “There are no laws in this United States now. This is a free for all Armaged­don. Any leo, or mil­i­tary, or law enforce­ment, or feds, that stand up and fuck their oath, don’t abide by their oath are the enemy. If they stop you from get­ting here … KILL THEM!”

3:23 PM (EST) Dave Fry, an Ohio res­i­dent still occu­py­ing the wildlife refuge after the arrests of sev­eral cohorts yes­ter­day made anti-Semitic com­ments in his live feed at the refuge. Fry spoke about “fake Jews,” a term used by a num­ber of white suprema­cists and con­spir­acy the­o­rists who believe that many peo­ple who call them­selves Jews today are not truly Jew­ish but are descended from a race of peo­ple called the Khaz­ars.  Drum­ming up anti-Semitic myths, Fry claimed that “fake Jews” believe “they’re supe­rior to peo­ple,” are “evil” and “do a lot of evil things with their money.”

3:10 PM (EST) Occu­pier Vic­to­ria Sharp’s audio account claim­ing LaVoy Finicum was mur­dered has been shared nearly 3,500 times on Face­book alone, leav­ing aside other places, as extrem­ists attempt to turn Finicum into a mar­tyr for the anti-government causes.

1:31 PM (EST) Occu­piers at the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge have begun using heavy machin­ery — appar­ently either to dig a trench or to build an earthen bar­rier, pre­sum­ably to impede entry.

1:26 PM (EST): The cur­rent leader of the Ore­gon stand­off appears to be Jason Patrick, who took over the role from Blaine Cooper early Wednes­day. Patrick, who was at the Bundy Ranch in 2014, is an anti-government extrem­ist and Three Per­center known in his home state of Geor­gia for his out­bursts against law enforce­ment and court per­son­nel, and for his attempts to bring video cam­eras into courtrooms.

12:51 PM (EST): React­ing to the evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion in Ore­gon, the anti-government extrem­ist Pacific Patri­ots Net­work issued a “Stand By” order to their mem­bers and fol­low­ers. “Cooler heads must pre­vail,” they announced. “We do not wish to inflame the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and will engage in open dia­logue until all the facts have been gath­ered.” Based on pre­vi­ous, sim­i­lar inci­dents, this is the expected response from most orga­nized groups, who tend to under­stand the futil­ity of engag­ing the fed­eral government’s fire­power. Indi­vid­u­als tend to be more volatile (and less pre­dictable) in these situations.

12:28 PM (EST): Right-wing talk show host Glenn Beck issued a state­ment on Face­book Wednes­day morn­ing, writ­ing that he was “deeply sad­dened by the loss of life” in Ore­gon, but that the pro­test­ers at Mal­heur should not have been armed. Because they were so vocal about their com­mit­ment to using vio­lence, as nec­es­sary, to defend their beliefs, Beck argues, “The[ir] cause was lost before it began.”

11:52 AM (EST): As ten­sions increase, so too does the appar­ent rhetoric by some of the stand­off par­tic­i­pants. Dur­ing a live feed of the stand­off on YouTube, a male can clearly be heard say­ing “There will be a shootout… None of them are safe. When I get outta here, I’m gonna hunt them down!”

11:45 AM (EST): Michele Fiore, a Nevada state assem­bly per­son, has taken to Twit­ter to repeat the extrem­ist claim that LaVoy Finicum was mur­dered by the gov­ern­ment. Fiore is an ally of Cliven Bundy, the anti-government extrem­ist whose stand­off with author­i­ties in 2014 in Nevada inspired his sons to seize the wildlife refuge in Oregon.

11:31 AM (EST): Sup­port­ers of the siege at wildlife refuge in Ore­gon, includ­ing Twit­ter users as well as wlavoy memehite suprema­cists on Storm­front , are cir­cu­lat­ing an image of LaVoy Finicum in an attempt to turn the extrem­ist into a right-wing mar­tyr. Finicum allegedly was killed while charg­ing law enforce­ment offi­cers who were attempt­ing to arrest Finicum and other occu­piers. The meme repeats an extrem­ist claim cir­cu­lat­ing on the Inter­net that Finicum was mur­dered while unarmed and with his hands in the air.

11:20 AM (EST): The remain­ing extrem­ists at the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge stand­off are still defi­ant and  not ready to sur­ren­der to author­i­ties. Duane Ehmer of Irrigon, Ore­gon, and off and on par­tic­i­pant in the stand­off, said on Face­book that “now the wolves are at the gate, Were [sic] are those Oath keep­ers.” He is refer­ring to the anti-government extrem­ist group that often injects itself into con­flicts. More infor­ma­tion on the Oath Keep­ers.

10:17 AM (EST): Some anti-government extrem­ists are already attempt­ing to por­tray Finicum as a mar­tyr; the risk of retal­i­a­tion by anti-government extrem­ists, locally or else­where, against the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is fairly substantial.

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January 11, 2016 5

10 Mistakes Made By The Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupiers

On Jan­u­ary 2, a group of anti-government extremists—who would later dub them­selves Cit­i­zens for Con­sti­tu­tional Freedom—seized con­trol of the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge head­quar­ters in remote south­east Ore­gon. The seizure, led by Ammon Bundy, son of a Nevada rancher who had him­self engaged in a stand­off with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in 2014, was osten­si­bly con­ducted to protest the resen­tenc­ing of a father and son pair of south­east Ore­gon ranch­ers, Dwight and Steven Ham­mond, on fed­eral arson charges.

For more than a week now, Bundy and his two dozen or so followers—the num­bers change daily—have held the head­quar­ters, claim­ing they will relin­quish it only when the Ham­monds are released and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment turns con­trol of fed­eral land over to the “people.”

Ammon Bundy

Ammon Bundy

Yet the con­fronta­tion desired by Bundy and his fol­low­ers has not gone very well for them so far. Faced with deri­sion, lack of sup­port, and inter­nal bick­er­ing, as well as the dis­tinct absence of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment they had sought to vis­i­bly con­front, the occu­piers now seem some­what con­fused and hes­i­tant. The sce­nario has so far not played out in a man­ner that they hoped for or expected.

While the sit­u­a­tion at Mal­heur is still tense and there are plenty of ways that it could worsen—for exam­ple, frus­trated extrem­ists could try to esca­late the situation—it is clear that Bundy and the other occu­piers have made sev­eral key mis­cal­cu­la­tions in their planned coup-de-main. These include:

  1. The occu­piers did not secure the sup­port of the Ham­monds. Though Ammon Bundy and some of the other future occu­piers were in touch with the Ham­monds over their plight as early as Novem­ber 2014, they failed in their efforts to get the Ham­monds to coop­er­ate.   Report­edly, the Ham­monds would not let pro­test­ers use their prop­erty, which may be one rea­son why Bundy and his com­pan­ions chose to seize the wildlife refuge head­quar­ters instead. After the seizure, attor­neys for the Ham­mond fam­ily released a state­ment say­ing that the Ham­monds “respect the rule of law.” Dwight and Steven Ham­mond reported for prison as ordered.
  2. The occu­piers chose a poor tar­get. The Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge is not far from the Ham­mond ranch. More­over, it was empty at the time, mean­ing that it was a sym­bolic fed­eral build­ing that could be seized by Bundy with­out effort. How­ever, the build­ing is in a remote area away from pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and also most extrem­ists. In tak­ing the head­quar­ters, the extrem­ists vol­un­tar­ily iso­lated them­selves. More­over, the build­ing is not impor­tant in any way, nor does its occu­pa­tion par­tic­u­larly hin­der the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, or even the wildlife of the refuge. And, of course, the build­ing has noth­ing to do with the Ham­monds, nor did seiz­ing it affect their sit­u­a­tion in any pos­i­tive way.  In their own para­noid fash­ion, even some of the extrem­ists even­tu­ally began to do some second-guessing about the deci­sion to seize the head­quar­ters. On Jan­u­ary 7, Joe O’Shaughnessy (at first an occu­pier, then stay­ing in Burns, Ore­gon, to orga­nize sup­port for them) posted to Face­book ask­ing if any­one had “stopped to think how did they get some of the great­est men in the Patriot move­ment to go out in the mid­dle of nowhere to [occupy] a small building…at the cold­est time of the year at a time [when] every­one is broke because of the hol­i­days. I don’t know about you but this is all start­ing to look fishy to me.” O’Shaughnessy spec­u­lated that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had delib­er­ately left the place empty and the elec­tric­ity on because “the place was already pre-bugged.” In other words, some­how the fed­eral gov­ern­ment “tricked” them into occu­py­ing the refuge headquarters.
  3. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment did not act as expected. It is likely that the occu­piers expected some new ver­sion of the 2014 Bundy stand­off, in which anti-government extrem­ists were able to engage in a direct armed con­fronta­tion with gov­ern­ment and law enforce­ment and get the gov­ern­ment to back down, thus ener­giz­ing the extrem­ists and their sup­port­ers. How­ever, because of the poor tar­get cho­sen by the occu­piers, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has time on its side. Bar­ring other cir­cum­stances inter­ven­ing, the gov­ern­ment can, in effect, bide its time and let attri­tion take its toll. Almost imme­di­ately, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment adopted a delib­er­ately low-key approach, employ­ing restraint and avoid­ing media atten­tion. It has not given the extrem­ists what they sought the most: a confrontation.
  4. The occu­piers failed to get local sup­port. Ammon Bundy and his fol­low­ers assumed that their action would get the sup­port of the peo­ple of Burns and the sur­round­ing area, many of whom were to vary­ing degrees sym­pa­thetic to the sit­u­a­tion of the Ham­monds. How­ever, the major­ity of the occu­piers were not from the local area—or even from Oregon—but were out­siders pri­mar­ily from Ari­zona, Utah, and Nevada. More­over, they seemed to be seek­ing atten­tion for them­selves as much as, if not more than, for the Ham­monds.  The local fire chief told an Ore­gon­ian reporter that the group “seems like a bunch of peo­ple ready to shoot. I don’t want that in my county.”  Bundy and sev­eral of his fol­low­ers also alien­ated some of the local cit­i­zens who orig­i­nally had been will­ing to work with them.  Locals who had helped orga­nize a pro-Hammond rally shortly before the seizure sub­se­quently issued a state­ment claim­ing that the activ­i­ties of the Bundy group were “unfor­tu­nate and not related to and con­trary to” their own wishes.
  5. The local sher­iff “failed” the occu­piers once again. For some years, Ammon Bundy and other mem­bers of his fam­ily have argued that it is the role of the county sher­iff to “pro­tect” the peo­ple from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and have repeat­edly called on local sher­iffs to inter­vene in con­flicts with the fed­eral government—without suc­cess. Har­ness County Sher­iff David Ward came out early as a vocal oppo­nent of Bundy and his actions (and whose fam­ily report­edly got death threats as a result). In fact, Ward helped to crys­tal­lize com­mu­nity oppo­si­tion to Bundy and his fol­low­ers in a key com­mu­nity meet­ing. Ward sub­se­quently met with Bundy to offer him “safe pas­sage” out of the county, in an attempt to end the stand­off, but Bundy refused.
  6. The occu­piers failed to get sub­stan­tial sup­port from other extrem­ists. Not only did the Cit­i­zens for Con­sti­tu­tional Free­dom fail to get sup­port from the Ham­monds, local law enforce­ment, or the local com­mu­nity, but they have so far failed to get sub­stan­tial sup­port from other right-wing extrem­ists, whether locally or fur­ther afield. While some anti-government extrem­ists have indeed sup­ported the actions of Bundy and the other occu­piers, such sup­port has been far less than the occu­piers clearly hoped for. Bundy had already burned bridges with the anti-government Oath Keep­ers thanks to feuds dur­ing and after the 2014 Bundy Ranch stand­off, so it was no sur­prise that the Oath Keep­ers did not sup­port the Ore­gon seizure. But many other anti-government extrem­ists also con­demned the actions of the Ore­gon occu­piers, on a vari­ety of grounds. Oth­ers stated that they dis­agreed with the “oper­a­tion,” though they would come to the aid of the occu­piers if they were attacked by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. One rea­son that many extrem­ists were less than excited about the refuge head­quar­ters occu­pa­tion was because it didn’t seem to be doing any­thing to help the Ham­monds but would sim­ply put extrem­ists in harm’s way.
  7. Media atten­tion did not always work to the occu­piers’ advan­tage. As in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff—at which a great many of the refuge occu­piers were present—Bundy and the oth­ers hoped to attract media atten­tion to their actions. That cer­tainly hap­pened, espe­cially in the early days of the stand­off, with media vans crowd­ing the grounds of the head­quar­ters. How­ever, while the media brought them atten­tion, it wasn’t always pos­i­tive atten­tion. Very early on, reporters on the scene brought down to earth claims by the occu­piers that they num­bered around 150, observ­ing that the true num­ber might be as lit­tle as one-tenth of that fig­ure. Reporters wan­dered around the refuge, seek­ing inter­views with any and all occupiers—and the extrem­ists did not always come out of the inter­views look­ing good. More­over, jour­nal­ists exposed the crim­i­nal his­to­ries of some of the occu­piers and, in the case of occu­pier Brian Cav­a­lier, revealed that his claims to have served in the United States Marine Corps were false. Cav­a­lier allegedly left the refuge soon after.
  8. Social media is a two-edged sword. Bundy and the other occu­piers did not rely solely on the tra­di­tional main­stream media. From the begin­ning, many of the occu­piers have assid­u­ously used Face­book, Twit­ter, and other social media sites to com­mu­ni­cate to their friends and fol­low­ers and get their mes­sage out. How­ever, as many cor­po­ra­tions and politi­cians have learned, social media mes­sag­ing some­times has a way of get­ting out of con­trol. In this case, non-extremists, who vastly out­num­bered the extrem­ists on social media, began to use the plat­forms to mock and deride the occu­piers, cre­at­ing hash­tags such as #Yal­lQaeda and #Vanil­laI­SIS. After a cou­ple of occu­piers entreated their sup­port­ers to send sup­plies such as food and “snacks,” the notion of snacks became a viral meme with which the occu­piers were mer­ci­lessly pil­lo­ried. “Will com­mit trea­son for Fun­yuns” was just one of hun­dreds of mock­ing “snack” references.
  9. The occu­piers have suf­fered from inter­nal bick­er­ing. Never par­tic­u­larly orga­nized to begin with, the occu­piers have not showed any real cohe­sive­ness.   As time has worn on, dif­fer­ent occu­piers have argued and bick­ered over a vari­ety of issues, rang­ing from tac­tics to the pres­ence of women and chil­dren at the refuge. At least one of the occu­piers left the refuge as a result. The odds of such bick­er­ing are likely to increase with time.
  10. The occu­piers have no prac­ti­cal end game. As the one-sided stand­off wears on, time is likely to take its toll on more and more occu­piers. Some have already left, tem­porar­ily or per­ma­nently, to deal with “real life” issues such as work and fam­ily.  Because the fed­eral gov­ern­ment seems hardly likely to release the Ham­monds based on the demands of Bundy and his fol­low­ers, and because it cer­tainly will never engage in some sort of mass give­away of fed­eral land, the occu­piers are unlikely to get any sort of sat­is­fac­tion from the gov­ern­ment. And though a cou­ple of the most volatile occu­piers have given indi­ca­tions that they would wel­come some sort of armed encounter with the gov­ern­ment, oth­ers seem to have become more wary as the stand­off has pro­gressed. The pos­si­bil­ity that the occu­piers, espe­cially if more attri­tion occurs, will attempt to come up with some sort of face-saving ratio­nal­iza­tion for stand­ing down seems like a real pos­si­bil­ity. As long as cooler heads pre­vail, it may be the best oppor­tu­nity for end­ing the stand­off with no one being hurt and no “mar­tyrs” or “heroes” cre­ated, around whom other extrem­ists could rally.

 

 

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