So the feds finally got their men.
On Tuesday, the FBI and Oregon State Police pulled over nine militia members who had taken over a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest the unjust jailing of Steven and Dwight Hammond. The militia members included outspoken anti-federal bureaucracy activists Ammon and Ryan Bundy, members of the Bundy clan that faced down the Environmental Protection Agency in Nevada last year. As NBC News reports:
Officials had been waiting for an opportunity to arrest the group’s leadership away from the refuge to minimize the potential for violence, a senior law enforcement official told NBC News. The nine activists were traveling in two vehicles 45 miles outside of the refuge when the FBI and Oregon State Police pulled them over, the official said. Some tried to get away, then there was gunfire. Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, 54, was killed in the shooting, his daughter told NBC News. Ryan Bundy was injured, the official said. It was not year clear who fired the shots. Reportedly, Bundy and Finicum were the only two members of the group not to immediately surrender.
Finicum left 11 children and 19 grandchildren.
Finicum’s daughter, Challice Finicum Finch, said that her father had told her he would not pull a gun first on law enforcement. “We all thought it would end, but not like this,” she said. “My dad did stress that they couldn’t pull a gun on them [officers] unless they pulled a gun. They were all committed to not firing on federal agents.” Filicum told NBC News on January 6, “There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them. I’m prepared to defend freedom.”
NBC News reports that law enforcement have now set up checkpoints along key routes in and out of the Malhear National Wildlife Refuge.
The Bundys were supposed to meet with authorities at 6 p.m. in John Day, a nearby town; the shootings happened at 4:25 p.m. according to the FBI. Finicum told The Oregonian the day before his killing that “the tenor has changed, [law enforcement] have become more hardened…They’re doing all the things that show they want to take some kinetic action against us, and we’re saying, ‘Why be so unfriendly?’”
So, here’s what we don’t know: who initiated the shooting; why the authorities scheduled a meet with the Bundy group, only to arrest them on the way to the meeting; whether the feds planned to arm up or precipitate a conflict, as Finicum suggested in advance; and most of all, why somebody had to die so that the government could prove that wrongfully-imprisoned farmers the feds want to push off their land should remain in jail.
If somebody pulls a gun on the authorities, they should expect to be shot, obviously. The danger of the Bundy protest was always that the feds would get aggressive.
But it is worth noting the selective aggression of the federal government here. When college students take over government-owned buildings, the feds are nowhere to be found; the President of the United States justifies riots in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. If a few ranchers take over an empty federal building in the middle of nowhere, however, that’s worth drawing out the protesters and then risking a shooting.
As government grows larger, such run-ins will become more common. That’s particularly true when those targeted by the government have no association with an important political constituency. The Hammonds aren’t a national issue because they’re ranchers fighting the Bureau of Land Management, not blacks in Ferguson fighting the “white establishment.” The Bundys claim that LaVoy Finicum “had his arms in the air” when he was shot, but there will be no mass movement, no protest photos on CNN — an ironic counterpoint to the national movement that sprang up in the aftermath of the fully fictionalized account of thug Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson.
Every law is enforced at point of gun. Finicum knew that. So do we all. But his death should remind us that before we regulate selling “loose” cigarettes or the ability to feed your cattle in public areas, before we hand power to bureaucracies, before we go along with another “meaningless regulation,” we ought to take stock of the fact that someday, somebody might lose their life to resist the consequences of such government action.
We ought to ask: is this law worth it?