Oregon militia spokesman Robert LaVoy Finnicum killed and leader Ammon Bundy arrested in standoff with police
One of the armed anti-government protesters occupying a remote federal facility in eastern Oregon has been killed in a shootout with the authorities, while the group’s leader Ammon Bundy and four other men, including his brother, were arrested.
Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, 55, was killed in the incident, after the FBI and state police stopped the men’s vehicles on a highway around 50 miles north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, which the group has occupied since early January.
The authorities did not publicly identify the dead man last night, but Mr Finicum’s family confirmed that he had been killed during the confrontation, which took place at around 4.30pm local time.
"My dad was such a good, good man, through and through," 26-year-old Arianna Finicum Brown, one of his 11 children, told The Oregonian. "He would never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved."
Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, thought to be the leader of the militant group, was arrested with five others including his brother, 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, who suffered a minor gunshot wound but was treated and later released from hospital into FBI custody.
No police were hurt in the incident, and those arrested were charged with conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.
The men, who were on their way to a community meeting in the town of John Day at the time of the arrests, had begun the occupation after two local ranchers were ordered to return to prison to see out their terms for arson.
Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, were convicted of setting fires that spread on to federal land in 2001 and 2006. A judge ruled in October that their original 12-month sentences did not satisfy the federal minimum of five years, and sent them back to prison.
The militants seized the headquarters of the federal wildlife refuge on 2 January, making vague, anti-government demands – including the freeing of the Hammonds – and calling on fellow "patriots" to join their protest.
Speaking to reporters while concealed by a tarpaulin early on in the occupation, Mr Finicum said: "There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them... I’m prepared to defend freedom."
During the three weeks of the occupation, the protesters had been allowed to move back and forth between the refuge and the nearby town of Burns unhindered by police. But yesterday two more of the militia-affiliated protesters, Joseph O Shaugnessy and Peter Santilli, were arrested in Burns, while Jon Ritzheimer, another prominent member of the far-right group, turned himself into police in Arizona, where he had been visiting his family. All three were arrested on the same conspiracy charge as their compatriots.
The eight people arrested at the scene on Highway 395 were Bundy, 40, his brother Ryan, 43, Brian Cavalier, 44, Shawna Cox, 59, and Ryan Payne, 32.
Dozens of other occupiers reportedly remained at the remote refuge buildings as of late last night. On its website, the militia collective Operation Mutual Defense called on supporters to rally to the location in support of the arrested men. "You have an obligation to proceed to the [Malheur Refuge] immediately," the message said. "If you fail to arrive, you will demonstrate by your own actions that your previous statements to defend life, liberty, and property were false."
Independent News Service