The last of the armed extremist opponents of federal land ownership occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon threw in the towel peacefully on February 11th, ending an ordeal lasting nearly six weeks. With shouts of, “All I needed was marijuana! You guys wouldn’t even let me have marijuana!”, 27-year-old David Lee Fry of Ohio agreed to “one more cookie, one more cigarette,” and then came out with his hands up, even though less than an hour earlier he had had a gun to his head and was ready to pull the trigger. The occupation, which began with the takeover by a not entirely determinable number of right-wing militants, possibly dozens, on January 2nd (see my blog post on the subject), had by early February dwindled to a cast of only four, the rest having either surrendered or been arrested during forays out of the compound. By February 4th, 16 of the occupiers, including the previously arrested brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy as well as—in absentia—the four still inside the refuge, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Oregon for preventing “federal officials from performing their official duties by force, threats and intimidation.” The Bundys’ father, the virulently racist Mormon rancher Cliven Bundy, age 74, who scared off armed Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.) agents after he refused to pay years of derelict grazing fees, had recently been bragging that he was de facto immune from prosecution because federal authorities were permanently intimidated, but he too was arrested, on February 10th, as he arrived at Portland International Airport, on his way to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to show support to the, at that point, last four holdouts. He is now housed in the same jail as his two sons, on weapons-related charges as well as charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers back during his 2014 standoff.
|Cliven Bundy in 2014 during the Nevada standoff|
By the end, the long occupation had become a kind of three-ring circus of right-wing nuttery. In the closing hours, Michele Fiore, a Republican state legislator from Nevada who had been a public supporter of the occupation, talked him down over patched-in radio conversations from Portland while thousands listened for more than an hour on live streaming. Fiore is a certified gun-toting nutcase herself, unembarrased about her self-produced, ahem, indie film Siren, starring herself …
… or her family’s most recent Christmas card, which became viral on the Internet a few months ago:
She is noted for calling African-Americans “colored” and believing that cancer is a fungus which can be removed with baking soda. Her ledge-psychology patter in the end spoke of supporters of the occupiers’ cause—opposition to federal ownership of land in the West—as “we,” while Fry ranted about flying saucers, Trayvon Martin, drone strikes, and abortion, saying, at various points, “Look how stupid the American people are—U.F.O.s are real, those little spaceships flying around,” and saying that “the government needs to stop chemically mutating people.” The Rev. Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham)—another head case who believes President Barack Obama is a foreign-born Muslim and that the Muslim Brotherhood has has infiltrated the United States government—also arrived at the scene to help end the standoff, telling the militants he was “proud of you and love you.” Another of the occupiers was Pete Santilli, a real-estate-swindler who claims falsely to be a Yale University law graduate and Marine veteran and is a renowned conspiracy-theorist on right-wing talk radio—notorious for once saying on the air that Hillary Rodham Clinton should be “tried, convicted, and shot in the vagina” for supposedly faking Osama bin Laden’s death. Santilli is now under arrest as well.
|LaVoy Finicum’s final moments, captured by an F.B.I. helicopter camera|
Bundy, Sr., is likely to remain a rallying figure for disaffected rural whites who use tortured legal arguments—mixed with half-baked Mormon prophecies and militia-stoked conspiracy theories—to question the role or legitimacy of the federal government. And 54-year-old Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, the one fatality in the occupation, who was shot by Oregon state troopers when he reached for his weapon upon his arrest on January 26th, is likely to become the cause’s martyr. At Finicum’s funeral in Kanab, Utah, on February 5th, Bundy rallied the troops, calling on fellow ranchers to tear up their grazing permits and take possession of the land they use (using, ironically, the same use-equals-possession arguments against absentee landlords employed by socialist land-reform movements in Latin America).