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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people                              
Vol. 80/No. 6      February 15, 2016



2001-15 Militant Index
Now Available Online
(lead article)

FBI, state troopers kill Oregon occupier

Oregon State Police, backed by FBI cops including sharpshooters, shot and killed Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum Jan. 26. Finicum was a spokesperson for Ammon Bundy and others who had occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon over demands for greater access to federal lands.

The FBI released a grainy aerial video that shows Finicum with his hands in the air. According to the FBI he “reaches his right hand toward a pocket” where they say he had a gun. Despite earlier reports that Finicum was “charging” at police, both the video and eyewitness accounts by two women who were in the truck with him, on their way to a community meeting, tell a different story.

Shawna Cox, who was part of the occupation, and 18-year-old Victoria Sharp, who was going to sing at the meeting, both said Finicum left the vehicle seeking to draw police bullets away from it, yelling “shoot me” and telling officers he was on his way to meet with the sheriff in Grant County.

Both say the cops kept firing after Finicum hit the ground, and they then opened fire on the pickup, while the women and another passenger huddled on the floor.

“He was cornered like a helpless animal, with nowhere else to turn, and executed in cold blood,” Finicum’s family said in a statement Feb. 2. According to the family “he was shot multiple times in the back.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing admitted no one provided Finicum medical assistance for “about 10 minutes” after he was shot.

Authorities so far have refused to disclose any further information, video or audio recordings — including one on Cox’s phone — until their “investigation” is concluded, which they say could take six weeks.

Finicum, Bundy and other participants in the occupation of the Malheur refuge in Harney County were on their way to a meeting in John Day with ranchers, Grant County sheriff Glenn Palmer and others when they were intercepted. They were invited to speak on what many ranchers call the “overreach” of federal agencies that control more than half the land in the state, as well as the government’s frame-up of area ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond.

The father and son cattle ranchers were sent back to prison Jan. 4 after having served their original sentences on trumped-up charges of arson. An appeals court ruled that the sentences violated federal minimums established under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and ordered them back to prison to complete five years. The occupation of the refuge came on the heels of a Jan. 2 protest in Burns demanding freedom for the Hammonds.

While most area ranchers and workers are sympathetic to issues the occupiers raised, many wanted them to leave, fearing the FBI would respond with a murderous assault like the 1993 FBI attack on the Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas, that killed 86 people. The U.S. government arrested Bundy and 10 others connected to the occupation, charging them with “conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats.”

Lisa Hay, a lawyer defending Ryan Payne, who was shot in the wrist when the cops first stopped Finicum’s truck, told the court Jan. 27, “The evidence against him is political speech and presence.”

After the arrests, Bundy called on his supporters to end the occupation of the Malheur refuge. When four stayed behind, Bundy taped messages from jail asking them to leave. “This was never meant to be an armed standoff,” he said Jan. 30. “Please do not make this something it was never meant to be.”

‘Ranchers lives matter!’

Competing demonstrations — one to denounce the killing of Finicum and one urging occupiers and others who have come from out of state to support them to go home — took place Feb. 1 in Burns. Harney County residents and ranchers joined on both sides.

Many took inspiration from Black Lives Matter protests against police killings nationwide, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “Ranchers lives matter” and holding signs that said “All lives matter.”

While some in the anti-occupation demonstration carried signs backing the sheriff and FBI, others crossed the street to express sympathy with those denouncing the killing of Finicum.

The Harney County Committee of Safety, made up of some local ranchers and other residents, said that it will continue to host public events and “re-focus on that which brought us to form this committee, the Hammonds: the case of Dwight and Steve, support to [their wives] Susie and Earlynna and pursuing legal processes to bring them justice.”

In Harney County the capitalist economic crisis that has engulfed the United States and much of the world has been greatly exacerbated by federal rules and aggressive environmental regulations that played a role in destroying the lumber industry there and in hemming in or pushing ranchers off the land. The last lumber mill closed in 2008.

In 2012 well over 10 percent of the county’s 7,100 people worked on ranches and farms. But federal government agencies, from the Bureau of Land Management to the Fish and Wildlife Service, often treat ranchers, especially smaller ranchers, as a hostile enemy.

Alan Schroeder, a lawyer for the Hammonds, told the Militant Feb. 1 that the family, with 600 mother cows, is dependent on federal land for about 50 to 60 percent of their grazing. “Maybe you could call them a medium size operation,” Schroeder said. “They have one permanent employee and hire more help when they harvest hay.”

After they were framed up, the Bureau of Land Management vindictively revoked their grazing rights. “Two of their four grazing allotments have a significant amount of intermingling with private land,” Schroeder said. “It’s not economical to fence it off. So with the denial of the permits, they can’t graze the cattle on their own land.”

Bob Skinner, a cattle rancher in east Oregon’s Jordan Valley, told the Militant he is involved in negotiations with the Bureau of Land Management to try to get the Hammonds’ grazing allotment back. The occupation of the Malheur refuge set back efforts to reach a possible agreement on that, he said.

But, Skinner said, “If the Bundys hadn’t done that, do you think anybody would even have heard about the Hammonds?”
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