“ONE MORE cookie, one more cigarette.” So said David Fry, the last holdout in the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon; and with a final “alrighty then,” he surrendered on Thursday without incident. That there was a peaceful denouement to the 41-day siege that created so much potential for bloodshed is a credit to federal law enforcement authorities. They showed restraint in sitting out the armed activists, but did not waver on the need to bring to account those who so willfully and flagrantly broke the law.
The surrender to FBI agents of the last four anti-government activists who staged a takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest federal land management policy came after tense negotiations that played out live on YouTube. The events gave the public an up-close view of law enforcement at its best in deescalating a volatile situation. It was smart to involve those seen as sympathetic to the protest’s cause, such as a gun-toting Nevada legislator, in the final negotiations for peaceful surrender. The FBI clearly had learned lessons from the bloody sieges in Waco, Tex., and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in the 1990s; a patient approach in letting the Oregon siege play out and burn out proved far more effective than a SWAT team assault.
The four people arrested Thursday had been alone at the remote facility since Jan. 26, when organizers of the occupation and others were arrested on their way to a meeting. Sadly, one occupier was killed in that encounter. But notwithstanding the mythology around the incident quickly fabricated by right-wing extremists, it appears from a video released by the FBI that LaVoy Finicum was shot after running a police blockade, refusing demands to surrender and reaching for a gun. The incident is still under investigation, but, as the FBI agent in charge said, “Actions have consequences.”
For those involved in the occupation, that now means facing federal charges. Particularly fitting is the fact that Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose sons organized the Oregon takeover, was himself arrested Wednesday on charges stemming from his armed 2014 standoff with federal officials over grazing rights. Law enforcement came under criticism for its handling of those events, with critics saying a too-timid response — not taking immediate action against a defiant lawbreaker — emboldened the militants of the Oregon occupation to think they, too, could thumb their nose at the law. So, good for the FBI for enforcing the law and removing a threat to public safety with a minimum loss of life.
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