Malheur Occupation Spokesman Killed in Road Block Confrontation
Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, a rancher and spokesman for a militia that has occupied a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon since January 2, was killed Tuesday afternoon during a confrontation with authorities.
FBI agents and Oregon State Police officers stopped Finicum and protest leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy shortly before 4:30 PM as they were headed to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon – a city roughly 70 miles north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Nine occupation members were traveling in two vehicles 45 miles outside of the refuge when they were pulled over. When some members tried to flee, gunfire erupted and Finicum was fatally shot. Ryan Bundy sustained a minor gunshot wound.
Mark McConnell, who was among Finicum's convoy when Tuesday's incident occurred, posted a video to Facebook detailing, from his perspective, what happened.
According to McConnell, Finicum attempted to drive away from a roadblock consisting of eleven heavy-duty police trucks. There followed a brief chase during which Finicum encountered another roadblock and became stuck in a snowbank. McConnell says Finicum exited his truck and charged at police, which is when he was gunned down.
McConnell says his description of Finicum's shooting is based on accounts from passengers in the slain man's truck, as McConnell was detained at the first road block when Finicum was killed.
Despite FBI officials ordering remaining militia members to vacate the wildlife refuge, an estimated 40 occupiers and their families remained there Wednesday. A few did leave after news of Finicum's death reached their camp, but those remaining show no signs of leaving.
The militia maintains that it is occupying Malheur in support of two ranchers – 73-year-old Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, 46-year-old Steven Hammond - who returned to prison in early January to serve time for as 2012 conviction of arson on federal land in 2001 and 2006.
Dwight Hammond Jr. was sentenced to three months and his son to one year in prison after successfully arguing that a mandatory five-year sentence was unconstitutional. The 9th circuit court of appeals later reversed that decision, and in October of 2015 a federal judge sentenced both men to five years in prison with credit for time already served.
The two men are currently seeking clemency from President Barrack Obama, and attorneys say the occupiers at Malheur do not represent their clients.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose protests against the Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights attracted supporters from across the United States in 2014.
The Bureau accused Bundy of illegal grazing his cattle on federal lands since refusing to renew his permit in 1993 and said he owed over $1 million in unpaid fees.. Protesters, many of them armed, flocked to a BLM base camp in April of 2014 after the Bureau seized around 400 head of cattle from Bundy. They later negotiated with Bundy and released the cattle, after which Bundy became a hero to Republican and right-leaning politicians until making racially insensitive remarks.