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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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December 3, 2015 0

Bonnie and Clydes Rare—But Not Unheard Of—In Violent Extremism

Syed Farook

Syed Farook

Back­ground infor­ma­tion on Syed Farook and Tash­feen Malik, the mar­ried per­pe­tra­tors of the tragic mass shoot­ing at the Inland Regional Cen­ter in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, is still sparse, as is clar­ity con­cern­ing the motive behind the vicious attack that left 14 dead and 21 wounded.

How­ever, accord­ing to media reports from the in-progress inves­ti­ga­tion, there is grow­ing con­cern among law enforce­ment offi­cials that the shoot­ings may have had a con­nec­tion to Islamic extrem­ism or that there might have been a mixed extremist/workplace motive behind them.  The FBI has said that it is now treat­ing its inves­ti­ga­tion of the killings as a counter-terrorism investigation.

One thing that is exceed­ingly rare in tra­di­tional work­place shoot­ings is for there to be mul­ti­ple per­pe­tra­tors, as there was in this case.  As one law enforce­ment offi­cial told The New York Times, “You don’t take your wife to a work­place shoot­ing, and espe­cially not as pre­pared as they were.  He could have been rad­i­cal­ized, ready to go with some type of attack, and then had a dis­pute at work and decided to do something.”

Mul­ti­ple per­pe­tra­tors are cer­tainly com­mon in extremist-related crimes, of course, despite the exis­tence of the “lone wolf” phe­nom­e­non.  Women are also fre­quently involved in extremist-related crim­i­nal activ­ity in almost every extrem­ist move­ment in the United States.

How­ever, when one exam­ines recent crim­i­nal cases in the U.S. involv­ing domes­tic Islamic extrem­ists, one finds that female part­ners of male perpetrators—even when them­selves involved in crim­i­nal activities—have not typ­i­cally engaged in vio­lence.  Over­seas, women have some­times taken on more vio­lent roles, includ­ing as sui­cide bombers.

If an Islamic extrem­ist motive is con­firmed in the San Bernardino shoot­ings, the fact of husband-and-wife shoot­ers would be a new wrin­kle in the his­tory of the vio­lent tac­tics of that move­ment in the United States.

Extremist-related vio­lence involv­ing hus­bands and wives—or non-married partners—is actu­ally not unheard of in the United States, but it tends to come from a very dif­fer­ent source:  right-wing extrem­ism.  Though not what one could call a com­mon phe­nom­e­non, such vio­lent “Bon­nie and Clyde” cou­ples do emerge with reg­u­lar­ity from within both the white suprema­cist and anti-government extrem­ist move­ments in the United States.

In fact, right-wing extrem­ism even pro­duced an exam­ple of the exceed­ingly rare phe­nom­e­non of a mar­ried cou­ple both of whom were on death row:  anti-government extrem­ists Linda Lyon Block and George Sib­ley.  In 1993, the two sov­er­eign cit­i­zens non-fatally stabbed Block’s ex-husband, then while on the run mur­dered an Alabama police offi­cer in a shootout.  Both were exe­cuted in the 2000s.

In more recent years, extrem­ist cou­ples have been involved with every­thing from stand­offs with police to hate crimes to ter­ror­ist con­spir­a­cies.  But some of the most shock­ing “Bon­nie and Clyde” inci­dents have involved mul­ti­ple homi­cides com­mit­ted by white suprema­cists and anti-government extremists:

  • Jerad and Amanda Miller, a young mar­ried cou­ple who adhered to the anti-government ide­ol­ogy of the mili­tia move­ment, tar­geted two Las Vegas police offi­cers for assas­si­na­tion in June 2014, killing them at a pizza restau­rant as they ate their Sun­day lunch.  The cou­ple crossed the street to a Wal-mart in antic­i­pa­tion of a final shootout with first respon­ders, where Amanda killed an armed civil­ian try­ing to stop them.  As they had intended, they did both die dur­ing a shootout with law enforce­ment at the store, with a wounded Amanda killing her­self after Jerad was shot.
  • Jeremy and Chris­tine Moody, white suprema­cists from Union County, South Car­olina, killed a nearby mar­ried cou­ple in July 2013 in a par­tic­u­larly grisly dou­ble homi­cide in which both vic­tims were shot and stabbed.  The Moodys had tar­geted the vic­tim because they wanted to kill a reg­is­tered sex offender and found the male victim’s name and address on the Inter­net.  They killed his wife because she had mar­ried a sex offender.  Both pleaded guilty to mur­der in 2014, receiv­ing life sen­tences with no parole, but were unre­pen­tant, with Chris­tine Moody call­ing the day of the mur­ders “the best day of my life.”
  • Holly Grigsby and David Ped­er­sen, a white suprema­cist cou­ple from Ore­gon, embarked upon a multi-state mur­der spree in 2011 that totaled four killed before police could find and stop them.  The pair trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton to mur­der Pederson’s father and step­mother, each killing one vic­tim, then killed a young man in Ore­gon to steal his car and because they thought he might be Jew­ish.  They killed an African-American man in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia in another car­jack­ing attempt, though they did not end up tak­ing the vehi­cle, then were finally appre­hended by the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Patrol.  Grigsby told the arrest­ing offi­cers that they were to Sacra­mento to “kill more Jews” when they were stopped.  Both pleaded guilty to a vari­ety of crimes and received life sentences.

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December 3, 2015 0

Searching for Motives in the San Bernardino Shooting

Investigators at the scene of the shooting in San Bernardino

Inves­ti­ga­tors at the scene of the shoot­ing in San Bernardino

The motive for yesterday’s shoot­ing in San Bernardino, CA remains unknown. In the spec­u­la­tion for causes, though, sev­eral details stand out.

That one of the alleged shoot­ers, Syed Rizwan Farooq, appar­ently tar­geted his pro­fes­sional col­leagues, might indi­cate an instance of work­place vio­lence, as does the rel­a­tively non­de­script, apo­lit­i­cal and pri­vate nature of the loca­tion tar­geted. How­ever, the degree of prepa­ra­tion that went into the shoot­ing appears more in line with polit­i­cally or ide­o­log­i­cally moti­vated vio­lence. More­over, inci­dents of work­place shoot­ings rarely ever involve mul­ti­ple per­pe­tra­tors but there were appar­ently two shoot­ers in San Bernardino.

Future evi­dence will be nec­es­sary to under­stand whether or not extrem­ism, or extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda may have played any role in the San Bernardino shoot­ings; at this time, it is entirely pos­si­ble that there is no link at all, although inves­ti­ga­tors are indi­cat­ing that Farooq had links to sus­pected extrem­ists abroad.

A com­bi­na­tion of work­place vio­lence and extremist-inspired vio­lence has played out in the U.S. in the past.

In Sep­tem­ber 2014, Okla­homa res­i­dent Alton Nolen was sus­pended from his work­place, a food pro­cess­ing plant. Nolen, who had a prior crim­i­nal record that included vio­lent inci­dents, went home and then returned to the food pro­cess­ing plant with “a large bladed knife,” with which he beheaded a for­mer col­league and attacked a second.

Nolen’s social media feed indi­cated an inter­est in vio­lent extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda, and par­tic­u­larly the vio­lence asso­ci­ated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), even as it became clear that he had no actual links to extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions or com­pre­hen­sive adher­ence to extrem­ist ideology.

His online activ­ity sug­gested that his inter­est in extrem­ist vio­lence may have informed his deci­sion to under­take a behead­ing, rather than another form of vio­lence, and spoke to a sec­ondary effect of vio­lent extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda. His activ­ity did not appear to be polit­i­cally moti­vated and he was not respond­ing to ter­ror­ist calls for vio­lence, but he was nonethe­less influ­enced by vio­lent extrem­ist con­tent that he found online.

A sim­i­lar case indi­cat­ing sec­ondary effects of ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda took place in New Jer­sey in August 2014. The accused per­pe­tra­tor in that case, Ali Muhammed Brown, had a pre­vi­ous crim­i­nal record and is also accused of killing three indi­vid­u­als in Cal­i­for­nia in June. In August, he was allegedly engaged in a rob­bery when he shot a man in a car. When appre­hended, Brown claimed that the mur­der was revenge for U.S. actions in the Mid­dle East.

Pres­i­dent Obama has sug­gested that there may be a com­bi­na­tion of motives in yesterday’s shoot­ing although, again, more evi­dence needs to be found to uncover the per­pe­tra­tors’ actual rationales.

But the Nolen case teaches that vio­lence and ratio­nale are not singularly-faceted issues, and that vio­lent pro­pa­ganda online has the poten­tial to influ­ence peo­ple who may not them­selves be extremists.

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