In the cold, biting, Oregon night, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum bleeds out onto the street. A father and farmer, he died fighting for what he believed in. He is another victim of police brutality in America, in a time when the justice department is being intensely criticized for its violent and somewhat militant actions. There is one thing that separates Finicum from other victims like Tamir Rice or Amadou Diallo, and not necessarily race. Finicum is different, because he is part of a militia which, after having received ‘divine message’ from God, invaded and occupied a wildlife reserve in a state that none of the militants lived in.
The leader of the militia is one Ammon Bundy. His father, Cliven Bundy, received a level of fame and/or notoriety last year when he and a group of well-armed citizens protested paying certain taxes to the US government. Ammon was unknown until he caught wind of a scandal brewing at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon.
Two ranchers, father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, had been convicted of arson on federal land. They had burnt down forests to create ranching space for their cattle. The Hammonds were sentenced to three months (Dwight) and 366 days (Steven) respectively. However, their sentences were later appealed to a higher court, wherein a mandatory minimum law was upheld, forcing the two to serve out a sentence of five years each. The sentencings of the Hammonds were controversial, with a peaceful protest against their second sentencings occurring.
Two of the protest leaders were Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne. Devout Mormons, they took scriptures from the Book of Mormon which they claimed suggested that they should occupy the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a native owned butterfly reserve. The Church of the Latter Day Saints almost instantly condemned their actions, claiming the brothers’ actions had no basis in Mormon scriptures.
Ammon and Payne created a small group of armed militiamen calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, a group which many claimed had links with fringe Sovereign Citizen groups. Sovereign Citizens are a loose collection of terror groups throughout America. They claim the American government is illegitimate, as they never signed ‘the social contract’ or asked to be citizens. They are the source of most terror attacks in America. Citizens for Constitutional Freedom claimed to have 150 militiamen initially, but estimates showed that number was closer to 12.
The group delivered an ultimatum to federal forces, demanding the government”get the economics here in the county revived”. The Hammonds were quick to distance themselves from the group, and began voluntarily serving their prison sentences. The native tribe that owns the land surrounding the Refuge, the Paiute, also quickly condemned the militiamen. They claimed they were hypocritical, as the militiamen claimed to be there to take land back from the government, when in reality the land is owned by the Paiute Nation.
FBI forces arrived at the Refuge and surrounded it. They avoided starting a siege, due to notorious events like the Waco massacre occurring under similar circumstances. CCF was not deterred by the police presence, claiming they had enough supplies to last them five years in the Refuge’s gift shop. However, media estimates placing the actual amount of supplies at around three months were confirmed when the group very quickly sent out requests for food.
The group became the subject of much ridicule on the internet. Many pejoratives were launched at the CCF, including, but not limited to, Y’allQaeda, Yokelharam, VanillaISIS, Talibundy and Yeehawdists. In addition, when the group sent out requests for supplies, leaving their address open for all, many people sent the group bags of sex toys, glitter and lubricants.
On January 26, the leader Payne and unofficial PR rep Robert Finicum left the Refuge to prepare a press conference for Ammon. Seeing this as an opportunity, the FBI attempted to arrest Payne and Finicum. Payne surrendered peacefully, but Finicum fled the scene. The FBI then arrested Ammon, and officially blocked off the Refuge. Finicum was shot to death by police officers while, according to the FBI, feigning surrender and reaching for a handgun in his pocket.
Following the arrests several demoralized members left the Refuge. Ammon sent out a plea from behind bars to all remaining occupiers to “stand down”. Ammon’s father, Cliven, has gone against his son’s wishes and urged all occupiers to stand their ground.
Sources include The Guardian, New York Times, BBC, Nate Thayer and NPR
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