An armed militia protesting the government’s unjust imprisonment of Nevada ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s unlawful takeover of private and state land, lost one of its members Tuesday afternoon in a shooting carried out by law enforcement.
The altercation occurred around 4:30 p.m. on U.S. Highway 395 about 20 miles outside of Burns, Ore. when the FBI and Oregon State Police attempted to pull over two vehicles carrying nine activists on their way to a community meeting north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a federally owned site occupied by the militiamen since early January.
Police opened fire on the activists when one of the vehicles attempted to flee before crashing into a snow bank. Militia member Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 55, who was driving the fleeing car, was fatally shot as he exited the crash in a submissive posture, holding his hands high in the air, according to witness testimony.
Ryan Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nevada, the son of militia leader Cliven Bundy, suffered minor injuries after being struck in the shoulder with a bullet. Seven other militiamen, including Ammon Bundy, 40, of Emmett, Idaho, another militia leader, were arrested on felony charges of “conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats,” NBC News is reporting.
Ryan W. Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Montana, Brian Cavalier, 44, of Bunkerville, Nevada, and Shawna J. Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah, all were arrested on the same felony charges. Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, of Peoria, Ariz., turned himself in to police in his home state hours after the shooting.
Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Ariz., and Pete Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati were later arrested in a separate but related incident. Santilli is a citizen journalist and host of TalkNetwork’s Off the Hook in the Morning who has been following the militiamen’s protest since its inception.
The government’s face-off with armed militiamen is the second of its kind in recent times. Nearly two years ago the federal government used the BLM to try and force rancher Bundy off his ancestors’ spread of land in Nevada.
The dispute between Bundy and the feds began more than 20 years ago when the BLM tried to strip him of “land-use rights his family spent a century earning,” reported the Las Vegas Sun. The federal government claims ownership over 84 percent of Nevada’s land and began enforcing taxes and fees on it nearly 150 years ago.
Bundy refused to pay the government’s grazing fees, leading to a standoff with the feds who eventually backed down facing a group of armed militiamen who surrounded the ranch in support of individual property rights. No one was killed or injured in that event – except Bundy’s cattle that were shot by the feds.
The victim’s grief-stricken daughter quickly took to social media telling the world that her father was murdered. “I want the world to know how my father was murdered today. His hands were in the air and he was shot in the face by the American authorities. Ammon Bundy reported there are 6 witnesses to this evil,” she wrote.
“My dad was such a good good man, through and through,” 26-year-old Adrianna Finicum Brown, another of the victim’s children, told OregonLive. “He would never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved.”
Victoria Sharp, who was in the vehicle with Finicum and several other activists, provided a firsthand account of the shootout, telling a citizen journalist that she and others were shot at and gassed repeatedly.
Sharp says she knew the traffic stop was a setup after noticing that snipers were hidden in the trees with their guns pointed at her and the other activists as they slowly exited the crashed vehicle. Around 40 police vehicles surrounded the scene, she added.
From the moment the activists were pulled over, none of them showed aggression or even so much as touched the weapons they were carrying, said Sharp, adding that they placed their hands outside the car window so police could see them.
After shooting Finicum six times, Sharp says the police unloaded at least 120 rounds into the vehicle as they hid on the floorboards, with the gun fire lasting five to ten minutes. Finicum is reported to have said “Shoot me, just shoot me” to police as he exited the car with his hands in the air.
“Then they shot him,” said Sharp, adding that his hands were still in the air as he fell to the ground.