BURNS, Ore. — Heeding calls for daily protests after Tuesday’s shooting death of a man who had been occupying a nearby national wildlife refuge, a “rolling rally” of dozens of vehicles clogged the streets of this tiny rural town Saturday evening.
The cars and trucks, many of them the oversize, rugged models favored in this rough desert terrain, roared around town bearing U.S. flags, Confederate flags and passengers brimming with rage.
“I feel we are living in a very corrupt government. Right now, people are getting pulled out of their car, getting guns pointed at their heads, and they killed an innocent man,” said Judi Rodgers, a resident of Harney County, who came carrying a sign that read, “Welcome to Nazi Germany.”
The protesters were marking the death of LaVoy Finicum, who had been a spokesman for the armed activists who have been occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since Jan. 2. He was fatally shot by an Oregon state trooper Tuesday during an operation that resulted in the arrests of most of the occupation’s key leaders.
FBI officials released a video that appears to show Finicum reaching for a weapon just before he was shot. But his followers insist that Finicum was “murdered” by police.
His death has created new energy among the anti-government extremists supporting the occupiers, who took over the refuge to protest what they call government overreach in land use and other matters.
Finicum’s death comes as the refuge occupation seems nearly over, with just four armed people still holed up there.
The renewed protests are unwelcome news for most people in Burns, the town nearest to the refuge, who have opposed the occupiers from the beginning, calling them outsiders who were pressing their extreme anti-government agenda without regard to the wishes of local people.
“We live here, this is our community, and we don’t want them here. We asked them to go home,” said Jen Hoke, adding that the occupiers and the right-wing militia members who have come to support them have driven wedges between friends and divided the community.
“This is ripping us apart, and it needs to end,” she said. “I thought the death of Finicum would bring closure, but more [militia members] are coming.”
Militia members and other anti-government activists, almost all of them carrying weapons, have called for daily protests in Burns as well as the arrests or resignations of officials and law enforcement authorities involved in the case.
Militia members toting anti-government signs gathered at the local McDonald’s parking lot, where talk among the camouflage-clad crowd ranged from Finicum’s death to what they called harassment and unwarranted searches of local residents.
Tony Atencio of Burns started his own one-man rally outside the Safeway supermarket before joining more than 50 protesters who drove past the county courthouse whooping, hollering and honking horns as police looked on.
Atencio’s sign bore a photo of Vinicum with the words, “All lives matter,” scrawled underneath.
“I’m out here to show respect for LaVoy Finicum and what he stood for, and the Constitution and our rights,” he said. “At least I can stand here now. LaVoy Finicum has no voice, so I’m here.”