The Cable

Oregon Stand-Off Enters New Phase With Killing of Spokesperson, Arrest of Leader

LaVoy Finnicum is dead. Ammon Bundy is under arrest.

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Their spokesperson is dead, eight of their supporters are in custody, and FBI officials have surrounded and blocked the roads to the Oregon wildlife reserve that a group of armed anti-government activists have occupied over the last month to protest federal land management policies.

The spokesperson, LaVoy Finicum, was killed Tuesday night in a confrontation with police on a highway north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that has become the site of a stand-off between the armed activists and the FBI. Authorities have not announced Finicum’s death, but his relatives have confirmed his killing in statements to the media.

Among those arrested is Ammon Bundy, the leader of the group occupying the preserve. The group, which calls itself the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, wants the federal government to turn over the preserve to local authorities.  

Details remain scarce on how Finicum was killed. Police say that he was shot while resisting arrest, and a Facebook video posted by a man claiming to have driven one of the vehicles claims he was shot while charging police.

The eight people arrested were accused of preventing federal officials from carrying out their duties through the use of force or threats, a felony charge.

Bundy’s group first occupied the wildlife preserve on Jan. 2 as part of a long-running dispute over who should control Western ranchlands. Since then, the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom have seized facilities and cars at the federal facility in Oregon and heavily armed themselves for an expected confrontation with authorities.

The FBI has consistently maintained it wants a “peaceful resolution” to the standoff, and has taken a fairly hands-off approach in its confrontation with the militant group. Mindful of the disastrous armed confrontations with other American militant groups in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, during the 1990s, federal authorities have sought to defuse such stand-offs rather than allow them to spiral into shootouts.

But the killing of Finicum and arrest of Bundy marks a new stage of the confrontation in Oregon. Those who remain in the wildlife preserve said Wednesday they plan to stay there. The FBI, meanwhile, has blocked roads leading to the compound and urged those still there to leave.

That’s an offer few of the militants appear to have taken. “I’ve heard ‘peaceful resolution’ for weeks now, and now there’s a cowboy who is my friend who is dead – so prepare for the peaceful resolution,” Jason Patrick, one of the remaining hold-outs, told Reuters.

One of the militants is streaming on YouTube from inside Malheur:

ROB KERR/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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