FBI shooting of occupier angers some in split Oregon community
Protesters gather outside Harney courthouse in outrage over “ambush”
burns, ore. » BJ Soper has never supported the nearly month-long occupation of a national wildlife refuge by armed antigovernment activists. He sympathized with their frustrations about the federal government, but he thought calm negotiationwas a better strategy.
Then, on Tuesday, an Oregon state trooper shot and killed LaVoy Finicum, a cowboy-hat-wearing grandfather who acted as the occupiers’ spokesman.
Now Soper is furious, and he’s calling for people fromall over the country to come to Burns to show their outrage at Finicum’s “ambush.” “I’m angry,” Soper, 39, said late Friday, joining twodozenprotesters in a light sleet outside the Harney County Courthouse. “We’ve gotaman that’s dead. Over what? I don’twant to see anymore bloodshed, and that’s notwhat I’m condoning. But at some point when American people keep getting killed by their government, people are going to fight back.”
Finicum’s killing has re-energized antigovernment activists, even as the occupation at the nearby MalheurNationalWildlife Refuge seemed to be running out of steam. Only four occupiers remained holed up at the refuge, while 11 others have been arrested. Their jailed leader, Ammon Bundy, who was arrested in the same operation in which Finicum was killed, has called for the three men and one woman still at the refuge to go home peacefully.
The FBI took the unusual step of releasing a video of Finicum’s shooting, which officials say shows him reaching at least twice for a holstered handgun. But the video, taken from an FBI aircraft, is of poor quality and is ambiguous, and it has only added to the conviction of Finicum’s supporters that his killingwas nothing less than an execution.
“It was an assassination,” said Monte Siegner, 79. “He had his hands up,” Siegner said. “He didn’t have a gun in his hands, and he wasn’t threatening no one.”
FBI officials have withheld further comment on the shooting until a formal investigation concludes. But they have repeatedly said they want a peaceful resolution to the standoff. Greg Bretzing, the FBI spokesmanwho presented the video, said that “our negotiators areworking around the clock” to end the standoff.
In Burns, the new round of protests has elicited a collective groan frommany people. Most in this remote town, high on the eastern Oregon desert plains, have never supported the occupiers. While many people here have complaints about the management of federal lands, which comprise more than half of Oregon’s total land, few supported an armed takeover of federal property as the way to express their frustrations.
“I haven’t spoken to one person who is for any of this,” said one Burns resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals from antigovernment extremists. “It was not the fault of anybody here that he got killed. And it wasn’t the police’s fault. They didn’t just shoot him for no reason.”
While it’s been good for business in a usually dead time of year (local waitresses said the occupiers are by far the best tippers), residents said the occupation has caused tremendous friction in town. Finicum’s death has dashed hopes for life returning to normal anytime soon, as people debate the two competing versions of blame for his death that have emerged.
• burns, ore. » Four people occupying an Oregon wildlife refuge continued to hold their position Saturday and posted live videos that reveal their hyper-vigilance against federal officials who may try to move them out, while 11 others who were arrested this week remained in custody.
During one early-morning video posted by a man identified as David Fry, the occupiers expressed concerns about nearby aircraft, and Fry gets jumpy when he believes he hears gunshots near the entrance.
“False alarm,” he then said after realizing the noise came from a generator or some other type of equipment.
“We’re not dead yet,” he said, repeating a theme that he and others have expressed through the weeks of the occupation. They’ve said they will leave only if given immunity from prosecution and are ready to die defending their position.