Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Details Emerge on Fatal Clash With Militia in Oregon

(CN) - Though the FBI is remaining tightlipped, multiple sources said Wednesday that an Arizona rancher was the individual killed Tuesday as the FBI and Oregon State Police arrested the leaders of a militia occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Just over a year before he joined the Oregon occupation where he was killed Tuesday, LaVoy Finicum met the standoff's leader, Ammon Bundy, in Nevada where Cliven Bundy, Ammon's father, had been letting his cattle graze illegally on federal land for the past decade.

With the support of heavily armed members of the Oath Keepers militia, Cliven Bundy fended off government officers trying to seize his cattle. Bundy owes more than $1 million in grazing fees.

Ammon Bundy led the Oregon occupation earlier this month to protest the jailing of two local ranchers, Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, on arson convictions.

Along with Ammon, the FBI arrested the ringleader's brother, Ryan Bundy, and three fellow militants Tuesday as they drove along Highway 395 in desolate Harney County at twilight.

The confrontation included gunfire, ending with one death and one injury, the FBI said.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy face felony charges of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.

With a handful of militants still holed up in government buildings at the refuge, the FBI have set up checkpoints around its perimeter.

"If the people on the refuge want to leave, they are free to do so through the checkpoints," Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of FBI operations in Oregon, said at a press conference in Burns on Wednesday. "And they will be identified."

The number of people at the refuge surged and dwindled over the weeks. Many who were initially interested went home as the weeks dragged on.

Finicum invited his family to join him at the Oregon occupation one week in. Three of his daughters heeded his call, traveling to Oregon with their children and becoming fixtures at Bundy's morning press conferences.

Also arrested during the shootout were Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nev.; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah, and Ryan Waylen Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont.

Bob Hart, a California construction worker who spent weeks with Bundy on the refuge, called the arrests a "set up."

"We're all just kind of in shock that the feds would actually do an ambush and kill somebody," Hart said in a phone interview from his home. "That's what we're dealing with here is more government tyranny."

Though Hart was not present at the confrontation with police, he said he heard Finicum was the man killed. Multiple news outlets have published similar reports, though there is no official word yet from government, Finicum's family or organizers of the uprising.

There were two other apparently coordinated arrests.

At about 6:30 p.m. in Burns, Ore. - the closest small town to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge - the FBI arrested Pete Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati, Ohio.

A radio talk-show host and self-styled "rabble rouser," Santilli appeared to be part of the press in the early days of the occupation but seemed to get closer to the Bundys as the days wore on. He often interrupted press conferences and community meetings, shouting down speakers with differing views, while at the same time filming the event.

Just before Santilli's arrest, Oregon State Police arrested Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Ariz., arrested in Burns.

And in Arizona, the FBI arrested self-described anti-Islam activist Jon Eric Ritzheimer.

All eight people were charged with the same crime.

There were no injuries among law enforcement officers, the FBI said.

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward gave an emotional statement to the press on Wednesday morning.

"I've been working on a peaceful resolution to this problem since Nov. 5, when some of the people arrested yesterday came into my office," Ward said. "They had ultimatums that I just couldn't meet. I'm here to uphold the law."

Ward stepped back from the podium and was silent for a moment.

"It didn't have to happen," he said. "We all make choices in life. Sometimes our choices go bad.

"It's time for the people occupying the refuge to move on," Ward continued. "There doesn't have to be bloodshed in our community. If we have issues with our government, it's our responsibility as citizens to work together to change that. You don't arm up. This can't happen anymore. This can't happen in America, and it can't happen in Harney County."

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