It appears that the Bundys’ Oregon standoff is ending tragically, with further violence still possible. Through grandiose demands and threats of violence, the Bundy brothers hijacked an entirely proper and justifiable protest of the federal government’s treatment of ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond and transformed it into a dangerous and frustrating weeks-long confrontation with local and federal authorities. In a lengthy piece earlier this month outlining the Hammonds’ legal ordeal, I made the case that civil disobedience — not violence – was an appropriate response:
With vast segments of the American West in government hands, private landowners often find themselves at the mercy of the federal government — a government that often seems to delight in expanding its power and holdings at the expense of ranchers and farmers, one in the habit [for example] of placing turtles before people. Ranchers and farmers fighting the federal government are a tiny minority up against the world’s most powerful body. “David versus Goliath” simply doesn’t do the conflict justice.
At the same time, however, when armed protesters suggested that they would be willing to shoot before they would be willing to leave, they crossed a very bright line. As I told an Oregon radio audience later that week, no matter how sympathetic one is to the Hammonds’ plight, threats like that — combined with the natural stress of a prolonged standoff — make violence more likely with every passing week. If the Bundys wanted to be taken seriously, they should have left when the local sheriff asked them to leave. Instead, this happened:
Ammon Bundy, the leader of an armed seizing of a federal wildlife refuge in rural eastern Oregon, was arrested and one person was killed Tuesday afternoon in a traffic stop in rural Oregon, the F.B.I. and the Oregon State Police said.
Seven other people, including Mr. Bundy’s brother Ryan Bundy, were arrested, the authorities said. Another person was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Mark McConnell, a man claiming to be one of the protesters at the scene, posted a level-headed Facebook video where he claimed that the slain protester, “LaVoy” Finicum, tried to flee from the FBI in his truck and then charged the officers after he crashed. McConnell, however, didn’t see the shooting take place. A person claiming to be an eyewitness to the fatal shots, Victoria Sharps, has recorded her own account, claiming that Finicum’s hands were in the air and that none of the other protesters touched their guns and had their hands outside the windows. There is almost certainly FBI video — from multiple angles — of the shooting. It will be critically important to release that video sooner rather than later. If a false “hands-up, don’t shoot” narrative takes hold, it could lead to this incident joining Waco and Ruby Ridge as rallying cries for further militia action. If the shooting wasn’t justified, it’s equally important for the public to know — and for officers to be held accountable.
The standoff never should have reached this point. Classic civil disobedience includes a clear call to nonviolence and a willingness to accept the legal consequences for your actions. In the case of true armed insurrection, the law of armed conflict applies. In either case, the rules are clear. But this standoff, which was a strange hybrid of armed civil disobedience, vows of peace, and threats of violence created a volatile, dangerous situation with all participants — law enforcement and protester alike — riding the knife’s edge of tension and anxiety. So far, one man is dead, the Hammonds are still in jail, and more violence is possible. It was past time for the Oregon protest to end.