At the beginning of the year, you might recall Ammon Bundy, son of rancher Cliven Bundy, and a band of militia men took over the Malheur National Wildlife refuge building in Princeton, Oregon to protest the arrest of ranchers Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46. The Hammonds said they lit fires in 2001 and 2006 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and protect their property from wildfires. As CBS News reports, “The two were convicted of the arsons three years ago and served time – the father three months, the son one year. But a judge ruled their terms were too short under federal law and ordered them back to prison for about four years each.
Both reported peacefully to authorities to complete their sentences, but the younger Bundy and his militiamen weren’t satisfied and vowed to make a stand, demanding the Hammond’s release and the federal government give up control of the Malheur National Forest.
It didn’t end well.
The Daily Mail reports, Oregon militia spokesman LaVoy Finicum has been shot dead after a traffic stop escalated into a shoot-out that saw Ryan Bundy wounded and eight leaders of the occupation movement arrested.
The group’s leader Ammon Bundy was among the militiamen arrested during the encounter on Tuesday afternoon as they drove to attend a community meeting in the neighboring town.
It is the climax of a tense stand-off between federal agents and the activists more than three weeks after they took over a government building in Burns, Oregon, to protest two ranchers being jailed.
According to local media, shots were fired within minutes of the traffic stop, killing Finicum and wounding 43-year-old Ryan Bundy.
But here’s the big question: who shot first? We still don’t know.
Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, and three other leaders of the occupation – Ryan Payne, 32; Brian Cavalier, 44, and Shawna Cox, 59 – were charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers, Oregon Live reports.
Finicum, a Mormon rancher from Arizona, was a father of 11 and grandfather of 19 who was married to his wife, Jeanette, for 23 years.
His daughter Challice Finch told NBC News after the deadly standoff that her father and his fellow protesters were ‘all committed to not firing on federal agents.’
Speaking to The Oregonian on the eve of his death, LaVoy Finicum noted that law enforcement officials ‘have become more hardened’ as of late.
‘They’re doing all the things that show they want to take some kinetic action against us, and we’re saying, “Why be so unfriendly?”‘ the militia spokesman told the paper.
An eighth group member, Jon Ritzheimer, 32, was arrested in Peoria, Arizona, after turning himself in to the police department, Fox reported.
All of those arrested face federal charges of conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to impede federal officers from discharging their duties, the FBI said.
Clearly there’s more to this story than we know. But let us pray this doesn’t ignite a tinderbox. Of course I just have to ask, do #WhiteLivesMatter?
[Note: This article was written by Michele Hickford]