- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 7, 2016

Outraged by the shooting death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum at an FBI roadblock, more than 1,000 of his supporters turned out for his funeral Saturday in Utah while others rebuilt a razed memorial on Highway 395 in Oregon.

There is no doubt that foes of the federal government’s public lands authority have been re-energized by the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Whether they have helped or hurt their cause overall is another question.

Robert W. Taylor, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who is teaching this semester in Bend, Oregon, said even Westerners with a stake in the public lands debate are torn.

“There’s a strong sentiment that these people were trying to do the right thing but did it in the wrong way,” Mr. Taylor said. “You’re in a rural area where a lot of farmers and ranchers live, and they have definitely been hurt by government action. So there’s mixed emotions here.”

The case for having the federal government relinquish its hold on Western lands is a tough sell even in much of the West, given that the vast majority of Westerners live in urban and suburban areas and aren’t directly affected by issues such as grazing rights and roadless areas.

Even Republicans who also have a beef with the federal government’s disproportionate hold on Western lands have urged the protesters to stand down. Only four remain holed up at the refuge after last week’s arrests and departures.

Randal O’Toole, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, called the Malheur occupation “a huge political miscalculation on their part.”

“I think they’ve hurt their cause,” Mr. O’Toole said. “It’s anybody’s guess whether that’s true or not. We’ll find out in a few years. But I’m not really optimistic.”

Over the weekend, billboards showing a photo of Harney County law enforcement officers popped up with the message, “Our Heroes/Making Harney County Proud,” as reported by KOIN 6 TV. The sign is an apparent dig against those behind the takeover.

More than 100 residents turned out for a counterprotest last week at the Harney County Courthouse, where the Pacific Patriots Network and 3 Percent of Idaho had called a rally to decry the Jan. 26 death of Mr. Finicum at the hands of an Oregon state trooper.

Opponents of the standoff squared off against patriot group members, holding signs with messages such as “Stop the Anarchy” and chanting “Go home.”

On social media, the standoff fueled derision with hashtags such as #YeeHawdists, comparing the occupiers to Islamist terrorists.

Mr. O’Toole said the protest, led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, might have elicited more support if it remained focused on local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were resentenced to five years in prison for a prescribed fire that accidentally spread to some federal property.

Many were stunned by the severity of the sentences. The Hammonds previously served shorter jail terms and paid $400,000 in fines for the fire.

“Initially, the Hammonds were a very sympathetic example, but they’ve turned them into a very unsympathetic example by doing these unsympathetic kinds of activities,” Mr. O’Toole said.

The Hammonds have since distanced themselves through their attorneys from the occupation as they appeal their sentences. Meanwhile, 11 of the Malheur protesters, including the Bundy brothers, have been arrested and charged with conspiracy.

At the same time, the takeover did draw national attention to the public lands issue. The occupation also prompted some pointed comparisons to the treatment of the Bundy-led militants to others invoking civil disobedience.

Rachel Alexander, editor of Intellectual Conservative, contrasted the FBI’s handling of the Oregon group to what she described as the hands-off treatment shown to the left-of-center Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements.

While many of those in the 2011 Occupy movement were also guilty of trespassing, “the police didn’t aggressively pursue arresting the Occupiers after just 24 days, even though they had committed crimes, made threatening remarks about law enforcement and some also possessed guns,” Ms. Alexander said in a Feb. 1 op-ed in Townhall.

She pointed out that law enforcement agencies were under pressure from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, who wrote a Jan. 21 letter urging the Obama administration to roust the Malheur protesters.

What may end up resonating long after the Oregon occupation is forgotten is the death of Mr. Finicum. Previous deadly sieges involving the FBI — the 1992 Ruby Ridge shootings in Idaho and the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas — have taken on a lore of their own among some critics of the federal government.

On Saturday, more than 1,000 people packed a funeral service for Mr. Finicum in Kanab, Utah, according to KSL-TV in Salt Lake City.

His daughter, Thana Tenney, said after the ceremony that the family would seek an independent investigation into his death.

At the site of his death on Highway 395, supporters reconstructed a wooden cross and planted more American flags in the snow after a roadside memorial in his honor was torn down last week. Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Transportation told KOIN 6 that their agencies did not remove the impromptu memorial.

“Regardless of what a person’s views are, a person did lose their life here, and whether your opinion is justified or not, a person did lose their life here and respect should be given,” Julie Perkins told KOIN 6.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide