On Tuesday, Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, and an “official” spokesperson for the group of militiamen occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were stopped by the FBI en route to a public event where the group planned to address crowds of supporters and detractors alike.
The Bundys were arrested, as was Ryan Payne, Shawna Cox, and Brian Cavalier.
The group’s spokesperson - one Robert “LaVoy” Finicum - was not arrested. Rather, he was shot and killed by authorities.
Finicum’s family and friends say he was murdered with his hands up, while police claim he reached for a gun and was killed in self defense.
Whatever the case, the standoff between authorities and the militia has officially turned deadly and the group members who remain at the refuge are now on high alert.
“I don't know what to tell you but if somebody saying 'peaceful resolution' comes in and points guns at me...”, Jason Patrick, who is still holed up in the bird sanctuary told Reuters by phone.
Patrick didn’t finish his sentence, but the message was clear: some of the militiamen are preparing for a gunbattle with authorities.
Under pressure to “resolve” the situation, the FBI has begun to move in. Meeting the group’s demands would entail releasing two jailed ranchers and even if that were feasible, turning over the refuge to the county (another one of Bundy’s ultimatums) isn’t, and neither is a wholesale reimagining of federal land use laws.
It’s unclear whether the men remaining in the remote building understand that there’s literally no chance that all of their demands will be met, but the abovementioned Jason Patrick said as recently as yesterday that they plan to stay until the “redress of grievances.”
Now, it looks as if authorities are prepared to “starve them out,” as it were.
“U.S. and state officials in Oregon on Wednesday set up checkpoints around Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where an armed group pledged to prolong its standoff with the government a day after one protester was killed and eight others were arrested,” Reuters reports, adding that “only ranchers who own property in the area will be allowed in and anyone coming out of the refuge will have to show identity and have their vehicle searched.”
One certainly imagines that any of the militiamen who attempt to leave will be promptly arrested - especially if they’re carrying assault rifles.
What happens when the men run out of supplies and need to leave the reserve through the new checkpoints is anyone's guess, but Finicum's death means the men now have a concrete cause to rally behind as opposed to a set of amorphous "grievances" about states' rights.
"The government can kill who they want for whatever reason they want with impunity," Patrick said on Tuesday.
Perhaps Mr. Patrick should consider what that means for his own safety and for that of his compatriots.
* * *
Full set of mugshots