Oregon Shooting Video May Galvanize, Incite Antigovernment Fringe
After the FBI releases a video of the shooting of LaVoy Finicum antigovernment extremists release a call to action
The release late Thursday of FBI aerial video, showing the fatal shooting of Oregon refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum, was intended to dispel “inaccurate and inflammatory” accounts spreading on social media and in extremist circles.
But there are already indications the release may be used as a springboard for the extremist movement to make the 54-year-old Arizona rancher and foster parent a new icon for the antigovernment movement, much like Gordon Kahl became in the 1980s and Vicki Weaver in the 1990s.
A Pacific Northwest militia group issued a statement today, saying it “condemns the violent action taken by the Harney County Sheriff's Department along with the FBI in the shooting death of Mr. Lavoy Finicum.”
The statement released by the Pacific Patriots Network urged “all Americans to come to Burns, Ore., to come to the aid of the American people standing against these violent, malicious and deceitful tactics.”
“Come stand together with other Americans, and express our Constitutional right to PEACEFULLY assemble and air our grievances,” the statement said. Its release came as FBI negotiators continued to work around-the-clock to convince four heavily armed occupiers remaining in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns to peacefully surrender.
The four remaining holdouts have been identified in various media accounts as David Fry, of Cincinnati; Jeff Banta, of Elko, Nev., and Sean and Sandy Anderson, a married couple from Riggins, Idaho. They posted a YouTube video Thursday entitled “Husband and Wife – Maybe Last Dance?” as they danced to a sad-sounding country-western tune outside the refuge headquarters complex as FBI agents tightened their perimeter around the occupiers.
“They want guarantees they won’t be arrested,” FBI regional chief Greg Bretzing told reporters late Thursday at a press conference where the bureau took the unusual step of releasing evidence video 48 hours after the arrests and fatal shooting. There were reports that an arrest warrant had been issued for at least one of the four remaining holdouts. By continuing to defy the FBI, the others, too, may now be subject to arrest.
Bretzing said senior FBI officials believed “it was incumbent on us” to release the video and make copies available on YouTube and for downloading by every American.
“We know there are various versions of what occurred during this event -- most inaccurate, some inflammatory,” said Bretzing, the special agent in charge for Oregon. “To that end, we want to do what we can to lay out an honest and unfiltered view of what happened and how it happened.”
Even before the release of the FBI video, the shooting of Finicum was sparking assorted, substantially unverified versions of what occurred.
Conflicting accounts of how Finicum died have fueled rumors and rage, with some calling his death unjustified while others saying Finicum resisted arrest or wanted to become a martyr via “cop-assisted suicide.” One account on social media suggested Finicum was shot while his hands were in the air. In another, he was charging at officers. In still another, he was shot in the head while on his knees.
The reports sparked outcry from antigovernment and militia groups who sympathize with the occupiers or with their message. The leader of the Pacific Patriots Network militia group issued a call Thursday for "thousands" of its members to descend upon Harney County to pressure the FBI into leaving.
“This is NOT a man reaching for a gun. THIS is a man with his hands up being executed because he is a patriot,” a posting on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page said. The page is where associates and supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy follow activities that began with his April 2014 militia standoff with federal agents at Bunkerville, Nev.
“LaVoy was murdered in cold blood,” said another post on the Bundy Facebook page. The page also announced that a viewing and funeral for Finicum has been scheduled for next Friday at a Latter Day Saints church in Kanab, Utah, where a large turnout is expected.
The Pacific Patriots Network statement and many other social media posts by assorted antigovernment individuals and groups have contained factual inaccuracies about the arrests and shooting that can be quickly unbolted.
For example, the Harney County sheriff’s department deputies actually weren’t involved on scene in Tuesday’s arrest of Ammon Bundy and seven other leaders as they drove in a white pickup and a Jeep from the Malheur national Wildlife Refuge, north on U.S. Highway 395, with two FBI surveillance planes tracking their movements.
“FBI agents and Oregon State Police troopers were involved in this operation,” Bretzing said. It was only OSP troopers, not FBI agents, who “utilized deadly force due to their proximity to LaVoy Finicum as the situation unfolded,” he said.
The Pacific Patriots statement called for Oregon State Police to immediately arrest “the FBI special agent in charge along with all agents and LEO involved in the shooting death of Lavoy Finicum.”
In compliance with Oregon law, the shooting death of Finicum by state police is being investigated by Deschutes County Major Incident Team which will issue a report for review by a county prosecutor.
In releasing the video, the FBI chief also gave a narrative detailing the arrests of Ammon Bundy and the others. Two FBI aircraft were in the air watching the occupiers’ caravan and FBI agents – likely members of its elite Hostage Rescue Team – lie in wait in vehicles hidden in the forested off-roads connecting the snowy, mountainous highway.
The tactical operation -- planned to arrest the leaders of the illegal refuge occupation away from the facility, in a remote area -- clearly appeared to have been carefully planned by federal agents who train daily to carry out just such operations.
The aerial video shows a white pickup, driven by Finicum, in the lead, north-bound on U.S. 395, followed by a Jeep.
FBI and Oregon State Police vehicles, with the lights flashing, pull in behind the Jeep which “quickly pulls to a stop while the white truck -- driven by LaVoy Finicum -- continues some distance up the road,” Bretzing said as the video played.
In short order, the three occupants of the Jeep complied with verbal commands from officers and exited the vehicle. Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne were taken into custody without incident. The driver, who the FBI declined to identify, later posted a video identifying himself as Mark McConnell, disputing reports from Bundy family members and others that Finicum was shot while on his knees with his hands raised.
As those three men were being detained, Ryan Payne exited through a backseat door of Finicum’s white pickup, but he and two other occupants, Ryan Bundy and Shawna Cox, refused orders to step out of the vehicle, Bretzing said.
At that point, Finicum drove off at a high rate of speed with his two passengers, only to encounter other FBI and OSP vehicles and agents who had deployed a spike-strip across the highway. Finicum avoided the spike-strip and attempted to drive around the law enforcement vehicles blocking the highway, but his truck became stuck in a snow bank after narrowly missing an FBI agent, Bretzing said.
Finicum jumped out of the driver’s seat of the white truck and initially appeared to have his hands raised as he continues walking away from the vehicle as two OSP officers approached, their handguns drawn, from different angles.
“On at least two occasions, Finicum reaches his right hand toward a pocket on the left inside portion of his jacket,” the FBI official said. “At this time, OSP troopers shot Finicum.”
Bretzing wouldn’t disclose how many shots were fired, only that it “was in the single digits.” It appears shots were fired by two OSP officers. After he was fatally shot, officers found a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun in Finicum’s left jacket pocket, the FBI official said.
After the shooting, it took FBI agents and OSP officers approximately another 10 minutes to convince the three passengers in Finicum’s truck to exit and surrender. That occurred after agents fired noisy “flash-bang” device and “OC” pepper spray gas into the vehicle, Bretzing said.
Ryan Bundy and Shawna Cox were arrested without further incident, as was a young woman passenger whose identity and connection with the occupiers wasn’t released by the FBI.
Inside the pickup, agents later recovered two .223 caliber assault-style rifles and a .38 revolver – all loaded with ammunition, Bretzing said.
“Actions have consequences,” Bretzing said in responding to a few media questions. “As the video clearly shows, it was a reckless action that resulted in consequences you have seen here today.”