Authorities confronted a group of armed protesters at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon last night as eight men were taken into custody and one was killed. Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, who had acted as the group’s spokesperson was killed during the melee. According to the Los Angeles Times, Ryan Bundy, brother of Ammon Bundy, the group’s self-appointed leader, was also shot in the arm.
The group was protesting the imprisonment of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven. The two were found guilty of arson in the early 2000’s after they deliberately torched an area of public land near their home to cover up a poaching crime. The outlaw group wanted the sentences nullified. The Hammonds claim they set the fire to stop invasive species from taking over their own land. The father had served three months and the son a year, but a federal judge ruled the sentences too light and they were given an additional five years each.
After the incident with authorities, Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore said that she’d spoken with the wife of Bundy who described the killing as unjust and that Finicum’s hands were in the air when he was shot three times. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Oregon State Police issued a statement that the Deschutes County Major Incident Team will assist the police department and the Harney County District Attorney’s Office with an investigation into the deadly incident.
The region is a beautifully rugged area for backcountry skiers, river runners and outdoors people looking for remote adventure. The occupation had been ongoing since January 2 and many of the townspeople had grown weary of the protestors, erecting signs around town telling them to go home. The group regularly patrolled the grounds of the wildlife refuge heavily armed, brandishing Russian rifles and semi-automatic weapons, making many in the small Eastern Oregon settlement nervous.
“I’m saddened to see this standoff culminating in violence,” said Kieran Suckling with the Center for Biological Diversity who’d been following the saga. “But the Bundys and their followers showed up armed to the teeth and took over lands that belong to all American people. We hope and pray those remaining at the compound surrender peacefully and immediately. Here’s hoping cooler heads now prevail in southeastern Oregon and we can return to a semblance of peace and civility.”
The debate has been ongoing on whether the armed group qualified as terrorists. No reports yet as to how many, if any, protestors remain holed up on the wildlife refuge.