Just when it seems as if the armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge by militants demanding the feds return public land ‘to the people,’ it ends in the worst way possible.
After Ammon Bundy and a group of his followers left their armed encampment at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon earlier this week, law enforcement officers arrested them at a checkpoint miles away from their occupation site. The accounts of what happened during those arrests differed wildly, but in the end LaVoy Finicum, one of protest group’s leaders, was shot and killed
Michele Fiore, a Nevada legislator and vocal supporter of the Bundy clan, claimed that Ammon Bundy called his wife from the back of a police car and told her that Finicum was cooperating with police when he was shot. However, several sources close to the situation told The Oregonian newspaper that Finicum and Ryan Bundy, Ammon’s brother, disobeyed orders to surrender and resisted arrest.
That’s only one of many controversies that have cropped up during the weeks-long occupation of the headquarters building at the remote wildlife refuge.
(By the way, according to my sources, a group of Oregon hunters who frequent the Harney County area every year, Dwight and Steven Hammond, the father-and-son pair whose arrests on charges of illegally burning federal rangeland sparked the occupation, were not, as media reports have suggested, trying to control “invasive species.” Rather, they were trying to cover up evidence of what was described as “big-time poaching,” which is why, these sources said, they were willing to accept a jail sentence, rather than provoke further investigation).
When Ammon Bundy was arraigned in federal court in Portland following his arrest, he offered a tribute to Finicum.
“LaVoy is one of the greatest men and greatest patriots I have ever seen,” he told reporters. “His love for this country ran deep through the blood he gave yesterday.”
In a video released by the FBI, helicopter footage shows the vehicle carrying the occupiers, driven by Finicum, come to a halt when state troopers with lights flashing stopped them on a remote stretch of Highway 395. However, after nearly five minutes, the vehicle suddenly sped away.
The Eugene Register-Guard’s account detailed what happened next:
“Finicum is seen driving into a snowbank after coming around a curve of the highway and encountering a law enforcement roadblock created with three vehicles positioned in a V shape. After driving into the snowbank, Finicum can be seen quickly exiting the truck and thrusting both hands into the air, extended outward. He is confronted by at least three state police troopers with guns drawn.
“It’s difficult to decipher exactly what happens next, but Finicum can be seen putting his hands in his pockets and making motions that could be interpreted as going for a weapon. One of the officers can be seen coming out of the woods, while the others are on the highway. When Finicum turns to look at the trooper coming from the woods, he spins with his hands down near his pockets and appears to be shot, falling to the ground.”
In fact, he was shot and killed. A tragic denouement to this entire sordid episode.
Deep, dark insights
Was Finicum trying to get himself shot, to become a martyr for the cause? That’s a fair question, given the narrative he authored in a work of fiction titled, “Only by Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom.” The book is an amateur-hour story the author described as “a family’s struggle to come together and survive in the midst of a national crisis.”
In the book, Finicum revealed not only his warped philosophy of how an oppressive government is destroying the freedom of hard-working, God-fearing cowboys like himself, but also exposed a truly dark and disturbing mindset that connects in a straight line to the events surrounding the standoff and the final confrontation with law enforcement.
The novel’s protagonist, Jake Bonham, is trying to protect his family from “agents” coming to get him in the lawless aftermath of a nuclear attack, during which Finicum offers some chilling insights into how he plans to resist.
In a scene right out of a straight-to-cable action flick, Jake’s son Dan surprises a couple agents, holding them at gunpoint, then suddenly smashes the bigger one in the face with his rifle. He then tosses his weapon aside and proceeds to administer a beating to the (of course) much bigger agent, fueled by righteous anger over the fact that a veterinarian friend was imprisoned and faces “a trial and re-education.”
After he “crumpled to the floor in pain,” Dan tells the bloodied agent, “You now work for me. You will take care [of the vet’s family], and if not, I shall come some dark night. I shall castrate you. I shall cut off your nose and all of your fingers. Then I shall leave you to be eaten alive by your own.”
From there the novel proceeds to the final showdown scene in the Arizona desert, Jake all by himself against a pack of six agents armed with high-powered rifles and night-vision goggles. To cut to the chase, Jake outwits and outmaneuvers the would-be killers, picking off three of them one by one. But at dawn they surround him, wounding him with not one but two rifle shots, then blast him out of his hiding spot with grenades.
Spoiler alert: Although severely wounded and barely able to stand up, Jake manages a miraculous victory.
“A cowboy doesn’t pack a six-shooter all his life and not know how to use it,” Finicum wrote, as Jake guns down all three agents with “bullets between the eyes,” fanning his weapon like Billy the Kid before they can pull the triggers on their weapons.
The only thing missing is a sneering Hans Gruber intoning, “You Americans are all alike. You all think you’re cowboys.”
Then, Jake passes out, wakes up days later in the hut of the beautiful Apache woman who nursed him back to health, and the story concludes as follows:
“I drew a deep breath. The air tasted different. For the first time I my life, I was breathing the air of true freedom.”
I’m no psychologist, but it sure seems that Jake Bonham’s alter ago imagined a similar legendary confrontation with “agents” that would end with a similar heroic stand in support of “freedom.”
It didn’t work out that way. In real life, the endings tend to be very different from cheesy novels. □
Dan Murphy is as food-industry journalist and commentator