Ever since Ammon and Ryan Bundy, flanked by a gang of fellow gun-toting, anti-government fanatics, took over a remote federal building in Oregon, they’ve been itching for an epic battle with the FBI.
Last week, they finally got one. In a shootout on an icy highway, authorities killed one member and then took eight others into custody, including the Bundys.
The FBI and Oregon State Police then erected roadblocks to isolate the people still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Already, rumors are circulating online that the victim, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was on his knees with his hands up. Others claimed he had charged police as he tried to drive pass the roadblock, crashed then tried to escape on foot in knee-high ice.
Never miss a local story.
Pressure to reveal what truly occurred, the FBI released an aerial video in an attempt to dispel rumors about the circumstances of Finicum's death two days earlier as he and other leaders of the armed standoff at the wildlife refuge were driving to a meeting.
The disturbing video released Friday shows Mr. Finicum made what can be interpreted as a suspicious moves while being told to surrender at gunpoint by two state troopers. Instead, he appears to reach for a something in his shirt pocket. Authorities said it was a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Mr. Finicum was shot and killed.
For Ammon Bundy, that was too much. Through his attorney, Mike Arnold, he urged his followers to stand down late Wednesday — and they began to do so.
“Go home and hug your families,” Arnold said in the statement. “This fight is ours for now in the courts. Please go home.”
Indeed, this situation was never likely to end well.
But, luckily, it doesn’t seem like it will get any worse.
It was past time for the militants to abandon their fruitless mission to make the federal government turn over the refuge and other public land — land that belongs to all Americans — to private ranchers and farmers.
Almost a month into this absurd standoff, both sides had more than made their point. The militia members proved they’re serious; they got their martyr, unfortunately.
The FBI proved it’s cautious and patient, but not infinitely so.
Keeping the standoff going would’ve only meant more violence, more disruption for the residents of Harney County and more wasted money for Oregon — a figure Gov. Kate Brown put at about $100,000 a week.
“This has been tearing our community apart,” a visibly angry Sheriff Dave Ward told reporters.
“It’s time for everybody in this illegal occupation to move on. It doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community.”
The FBI was right to continue offering the militants a way out. A few ventured down to the roadblocks to take it.
And even though the standoff is winding down, the FBI must still do more to limit public fallout from last week’s shootout.
Jason Patrick, who took over as leader after Bundy was arrested and shipped off to Portland, had asked the FBI to release video of the incident — and it did.
It was a good idea to see what really happened without a political spin. Transparency, along with a serious reality check, is the only way to avoid making what was already a bad situation worse.
In the end, this event caused a man his life and did little else. What a shame.
This editorial first appeared in the Sacramento Bee.