A few weeks ago, in January 2016, I happened to read an article in the
online magazine, Counterpunch
, written by a man named Chris Zinda.
It was about Zinda's accidental encounter on the 13th of that month, in Cedar
City, Utah, with Robert LaVoy Finicum, a right-wing activist in the
long-running battle between some supposed ranchers (though really just moochers
in ten-gallon hats) and the Bureau of Land Management, the BLM.
Zinda, an activist himself though in the opposite direction,
recognized Finicum and was surprised to see him “on the loose.” Two weeks earlier a federal property, the
Malheur bird sanctuary in one of the next
states over, Oregon, had been taken over by a bunch of
rustic knockabouts, and Zinda knew that Finicum was the
spokesman of that group. And so, Zinda thought, Finicum should not have had so
much freedom of movement, and in Utah,
not that distant but also not quite next
to the scene of “battle,” that is, the occupation. And for what purpose,
we might ask now.
For Finicum to hook up with his
Or to recruit new members for the
Or to pick up much-neededsupplies, to add to those already being heavily
begged for on the internet by the miscreants, who were heavily derided by many when that become known?
That early in the “campaign” the answer to the Finicums' presence in Utah
added to the list of unknowns, along with how it eventually turned out that
Finicum was also the participant who was the most illustrative of what the bird
refuge invasion was supposed to be all about,
and he was the embodiment of how it did
Zinda tried hard to notify the FBI and other authorities of Finicum’s
whereabouts, but none of them seemed to be interested. --At least
they pretended to be uninterested, but it now seems obvious that the
interested but that at that moment an elaborate
trap was in the process of being set for those scruffy occupiers, all of whom
were armed, and the Law saw no need for an outsider writer to get any inkling
of what we could now call the "Slow Motion Malheur Turkey Deadfall,"
given the reputation of those fowl for not being the brightest of birds.
Only a few of those intruders on the sacred territory in eastern Oregon of an Indian
tribe called the Paiutes and a large variety of birds were participants in what
sounds to me like a big scam going at the expense of the Federal Government
and, by extension, the American public.
rest were characters who jumped at the chance to pick
up their guns and take part in yet another
jab at the U.S.
government and to profit from it, even if only in the form of personal emotional
Like much of the rest of the land in states as forlorn as Arizona, the property that “ranchers” of
Finicum’s stripe actually own is likely to be so desiccated that it shouldn't
be used for anything at all, except to be photographed. So they are
able to call themselves "ranchers" only because the U.S Government,
in the goodness of its heart, leases out to them through the BLM vast acreages
of adjoining land, for fees so low that the whole thing has all the appearance
of being outright giveaways..Thus, Finicum’s standing in this group was
enhanced by the fact that he had an allotment of no less than 17,000 acres, on
which he ran all of 84 head.
Here in rural Virginia
where I live, that would be considered a stupendous amount of land for one man's use
and for so small a herd. That 17,000 is four times the acreage of my
entire county! But it rains here, which means that weather-wise if not
always in its politics, Virginia
qualifies as being habitable. In Arizona very little rain bothers to
fall, which means that no animals, human or otherwise, should be living there,
other than the scorpions, snakes, and roadrunners.—not if it takes that much
territory to run a relative handful of cattle, or if , like the Hopis, you already
have it all figured out.
So probably to live in a style befitting himself and what we have on Mr.
Zinda's good authority was this man's lovely wife, Finicum apparently had had to
resort to a couple of other hustles – pardon me, "activities," the
first of which doesn't have to be a hustle at all, if it is tended to
properly. That one was taking in unfortunate boys for foster care
on his ranch – in another almost unbelievably large number for one couple to
handle– fifty (!)– and for which he was said to have received
as much as a million dollars a year, if what I read was correct.
If Lavoy Finicum had known what we all know now, I believe he would've been satisfied with that and stayed at home -- usually the best thing in any situation anyway. But then, maybe not. Maybe he had already
become irreversibly doomed by simply becoming a "rancher" in Arizona.
Whatever the cause, at the very beginning of this
New Year of 2016 he and his lovely wife were not to be found in Arizona with their
profitable charges. Instead they were happily tooling up to the
more frigid and quite unlikely clime of eastern Oregon, eager to take part in
another hustle or dodge that had become dear to their hearts and to a number of
their fellow "ranchers."
This second hustle was to apply pressure on politicians to change the laws
enough to force the Federal Government to transfer control of as much as
possible of its huge acreages in states mostly in the West -- including
many national parks and monuments -- to the states and counties containing
these places, so that in turn those jurisdictions could be influenced to sell
or just relinquish title of formerly leased lands to what these guys considered
the rightful owners of those properties -- those questionable "ranchers"
themselves -- and forget others in the neighboring area, or the local Earlier Inhabitants
like the Paiutes tribe, or the actual owners of all that territory, the vaunted American People, and it was on their
behalf that the Government operated.
Thus -- if I can be forgiven for presenting what seems to me to be a logical
projection of this kind of thinking -- the next time the American People motored west to check
out all those wonders of nature that they been told from birth belonged to them merely by being U.S. citizens, they would find those sights and
experiences barred to them --
however, by countless barbed wire fences patrolled by heavily armed good ol'
boys, with entrance allowed only on payment of enormous fees levied by a few
grinning, rough-edged, newly minted American rustic millionaires -- the new
owners of places like the Grand Canyon and all its adjoining wastelands, as men
like LaVoy Finicum and his cohorts, the few that were capable of looking that
far ahead, might have dreamed.
Instead, a closer look at what the takeover of the Malheur Bird Refuge was
in mortal danger of later being involved was provided by a second article,
titled “Can We Make Sense of the Malheur Mess?” written by Brooke Warren
and appearing after the occupation ended, in a publication called “The High Country News.”
The author pointed out that the real
beneficiaries of the efforts expended and the risks taken by the Malheur
invaders, should the anti-BLM efforts prevail and all those western lands fall
into private hands and become available for grazing, mining, and other forms of
exploitation, have long since been present, with the big bucks in hand, and these men are just aching to gobble up more. Truly huge acreages are already in the possession
of just a few individuals, of whom the
most well-known names are those of the Kochs and also of Ted Turner, a media
mogul of times past who, all by himself (and possibly Jane Fonda if they are
still married) owns over two million acres, enough to hold the whole state of Delaware and then some.
Did these Intruders in the Snow at the Malheur Bird Refuge have any idea
that thus what they were really doing was clearing the way for a small number
of fat cats to get even fatter?
Such an asoect was never mentioned by the perpetrators during their depredations
at the refuge, and it is easier to imagine
the outlook imagined by LaVoy Finicum and his
wife for those 17,000 acres to become at long last their very own, when, in
their big white Dodge Ram pickup with, as Zinda was for some reason at pains to
tell us, "a great set of tires," they first pulled onto the grounds
of the Malheur bird refuge, a notably modest governmental haven
30 miles down a lonely Oregon road from the nearest settlement, a small
town called Burns.
It wouldn't be long after Robert LaVoy Finicum's destiny took his hand
outside the bird refuge that many others in this anti-government movement
seized on his experience to attack the Government with even more vitriol, on
behalf of all those already deprived young beings on the temporarily forsaken
Finicum spread back in Arizona, who would now have to find their way through
the rest of their boyhoods minus his guiding hand.
Therefore at this
vantage point in the tale of the ill-conceived and therefore ill-fated taking
of the Malheur bird sanctuary by a band of mostly out-of-state ne'erdo wells, it is impossible to see any connection between that effort in Oregon
and the gargantuan task back in Arizona of taking care of half a hundred male
juveniles who had all been conceived and carried through to birth and their
earliest years by other people, who, however, for whatever reasons were now no
longer in the picture. Even in the best of situations, boys at that
stage in the development of the human organism are prone to being dissatisfied
with their lot in life, and to saying so and acting it out in a huge variety of
We are assured by Zinda that Finicum was a friendly, pleasant man, as shown
by the photo that Finicum gladly allowed his wife to take of himself alongside Zinda,
in Utah, during those heady first days of the
refuge takeover in Oregon,
though Finicum had probably sensed that that writer was not on his side. I
suppose that Zinda didn’t tell Finicum what he told us, his readers, namely
that before he fell in with Finicum himself, he had tried his best to get the
authorities to detain the man, and I am quite sure that Finicum and his wife
would strongly agree that they would both be much better off today if this C.
Zinda interloper had succeeded.
Finicum already was well known for his dedication to anti-government causes,
and that plus his likeability must have added greatly to his prestige among
those rowdies at Malheur, who called themselves "protestors" and said
that they had taken over
the refuge in
support of two local ranchers named Hammond who, in their defiance of the BLM,
had been convicted of arson and were well on their way to serving
time. All indications are that they did so gratefully, perhaps having sensed that their family and friends would not see this decidedly hostile takeover of the bird refuge as the best thing that had ever happened in their Harney County. The good people of Harney did not want the refuge "given back" to them, as the badly deluded invaders said was their goal, and the locals generally said as much all through this incident. So, on almost the same day that the invaders arrived, the Hammonds
checked into prison to begin serving their sentences, with nary an
Finicum quickly became the spokesman for the group at Malheur, which kept
growing by the day, till the number of illegal occupiers rose to possibly as many as the 25 who later faced charges,
to say nothing of members of the media and onlookers, who arrived in much greater numbers, and
he was remarked by the reporters for another picture that someone snapped of
him, showing him giving an interview while huddled under a tarp, with a
loaded gun close at hand. At this time it was suggested that “LaVoy”
means “the Tarp,” though that is more likely to mean something like "I'm
going," in Spanish.
The instigators and leaders of this takeover were two brothers, Ammon and
Ryan Bundy, and they were sons and helpers of an aged reprobate named Cliven
Bundy, who, in 2014 near a place called Bunkerville in that other largely desert
state, Nevada, had gotten great prestige in such circles by having seemed to
face down federal officials made perhaps too wary because of
earlier face-offs, especially one that took place near Waco, Texas, in 1993, involving a cult, and that had ended with terrible losses in lives, among the cultists and the lawmen.
The more recent confrontation in Nevada, engineered in 2014 by the senior
Bundy, did not involve carnage -- the federals backed away, and these land militants saw that as having been a great victory for themselves and a model for future confrontations – except that I
think it's safe to say that everything about this 2016 follow-up in Oregon, two
years farther on and staged by two of Cliven Bundy's unlucky offspring, guaranteed the eventual failure of this latest clash with the Government from
its very start, no matter how well everything seemed to go for these men in
the first three or four weeks. Soon enough the invasion of Malheur came
to be seen not as another victory for all right-thinking cowboys but instead as
an exercise in
idiocy, with, in the end,
absolutely none of its participants coming off as anything other than nutcases,
and that included even the shrewd, affable, articulate, and seemingly
level-headed possessor of an attentive wife and the option of always being able to go back to a profitable thing at home, LaVoy Finicum himself.
It turned out that the authorities had taken Waco deeply to heart and had learned from the
mistakes they had made there and in other places, while these 2016 dummies at the Oregon bird refuge trusted
far too much in making stuff up as they went along, so that the choices
they made were invariably not in their favor. And that started with their
choice of a place for stirring up trouble that in its isolation was
literally only for the birds, and mostly migratory ones at that. And in
the dead of winter? They hoped to be joined by legions of the angry
like-minded, but that didn’t happen. Malheur was much too far from
anything and everything, and only Russians would join a revolution in the snow
and the ice anyway. Right?
When the end came, not much longer than five weeks after its January 2 inception, many people thought that the authorities had taken far too long to act
in the name of law and order, but it seemed to me that things suddenly broke
open so fast that it made those past several weeks of apparent government
inaction appear to have really taken hardly any time at all.
One night, after the Bundy gang had camped out in the increasingly chilly
refuge for slightly more than a month and they had been allowed to come and go
almost as they pleased, they showed how much they had been lulled into a false
sense of security, and so the government’s trap was sprung, whereby
not one but a whole bunch of that county's uninvited guests could be snatched up in one fell
In a startling display of unfounded confidence, a little convoy of the gang left the refuge and set out in
the cold darkness for a town 100 miles away, not knowing that
thereby they were fulfilling a prophecy that one wit had made at the
occupation’s start, which was that these bozos would be singing a very
different tune when the temperature started hitting 15 below zero.
And, while suffering at home here in
mornings were regularly reading 15 above, I had had a good time awaiting that
happy day of much worse that was sure to arrive in Oregon.
Meanwhile maybe Finicum and his
friends anticipated warming up a little in that distant town. But not far from
the refuge they ran into a surprise roadblock heavily manned by the till then
almost invisible Law. The others in the convoy stood down, but the driver of a
somewhat familiar big white pickup gunned his engine and raced off, only to
encounter another roadblock a short distance away and was abruptly brought up short by a snowbank and stopped permanently after almost hitting one of
the shouting law officers, who by then were probably in a big panic themselves,
now that a carefully calculated moment that had been long awaited and dreaded
lest it go wrong was actually at hand.
That is something that must happen all the time, considering how often I
have seen law officers on film, real or dramatized, shouting so frantically and
loudly after they burst in on the scene that I can’t understand how they expect
anyone that they’re accosting to understand them enough to get even a hint of
whatever it is that the cops want them to do.
The pickup’s driver jumped out and started running toward the officers,
while they ordered him to stop. He stopped and held his hands up, but
then he made a serious mistake. He reached down to a pocket that
the FBI later said contained a loaded gun. And two Oregon state troopers fired, and this man
became the first and only fatality of the takeover. Strangely, I thought,
the shot man turned out to be non other than the group's most visible and most pertinent
member, aside from also being the most expressive -- LaVoy Finicum.
All the others in the convoy, including the Bundy brothers, were
careful to be subdued enough to be arrested and safely carted off to jail.
And in the succeeding days, with their leaders having been suddenly taken off the chessboard, more straggled out of
the bird sanctuary and were grabbed, with the last holdout, after belatedly
noticing that he was there all alone, throwing it all in on February 11, all
last minute threats and numerous other verbal scurrilities notwithstanding.
And, at nearly the same moment, as a big and
completely unexpected bonus for law enforcement, Cliven Bundy himself was nabbed
at the airport in Portland, Oregon, a five-hour drive from Malheur but much farther than that from his home in Nevada, which he, too, had improvidently left and surely now spends every day wishing he hadn't.
Trying to show the younguns what had
worked for him, which was to have so many confederates on the scene with guns pointed
that the Feds would think twice and then wait for another day, he had lavoyed
up to Oregon and had attended a Finicum memorial service while grandly sitting
on a horse. And, as a result of finally being as deluded as his sons but, to the great joy of many and with the Oregon authorities steadfastly denying him bail, Cliven Bundy
will now have to stand trial, not because of
his intentions in 2016 on behalf of his progeny but for what he did during his
supposed victory over the Government in Nevada, two years previously.
In spite of LaVoy Finicum's newly gained fans loudly insisting that he had been prepared
to die for the cause and had acted accordingly, I strongly doubt that he
would’ve welcomed the symbol that he quickly became, complete with makeshift
memorials to him that were almost instantly set up on the lonely road to the bird
refuge. Something keeps making me believe that he liked the process of
living and trying to pull off these hustles, intensely, and that he
jumped out of that truck and ran toward the police only while calling himself
letting them see what Chris Zinda had seen in him in Utah, and he reached for
his pocket only with the intention of throwing down harmlessly on the snow an
object that till then,
in all the
he must have forgotten he
was carrying and which had been one of his badges of honor among those oafs in
the refuge but now ironically became the hidden instrument of his
death. If he had intended to go out of there fighting, wouldn't he have jumped out of the truck with gun in hand?
The people who answered the call to join in the fun at the invaded bird refuge near
must not have known that one brings loaded guns to wars but never to
protests. That’s the moral of what happened with Robert LaVoy
Finicum -- if we can leave out the possibility that it had not been at all wise for him to let himself also be photographed while he was happily rifling through Paiute artifacts at Malheur.
Finicum’s wife was not reported as being in any of these
incidents. I suppose that, seeing the general tenor of what things
were coming to inside the refuge and unsure of what he could do about it,
except that he himself couldn't cut and run (after all he had a position to
protect), Finicum had long since sent her back to home on the range in the slightly
less noisome company of the steers and the juveniles in Arizona, while in Oregon he went on to
become something that it’s hard to imagine anyone as apparently clever and sly as he appeared to have been would seek -- an accidental martyr for the
sad, sad cause of land theft already reprised from the Paiutes and from, before
them, unknown others a time or two.
The occupation of the Malheur bird refuge left behind many lessons for
future incidents of that kind, One wonders how many of those
admonitions will be taken into account in the future, before, eventually,
they are all forgotten. Malheur was a textbook case of how, in misconceived episodes like this, the leaders are guilty of filling their followers with goals and methods solidly seated in delusions, while the followers are equally guilty, simply by following and so shoring up the delusions of their leaders. Or, put more tersely, "Leave stupid behind." In fact, because all of it is almost certainly stupid anyway, just forget the whole thing.
Malheur also posed the question of what kind of a country can a nation possibly be if it all
becomes just the collected fiefdoms of a few individuals who maintain power
only by hiring large groups of armed thugs, some of them in uniform
and wearing badges and some not.
people working to bring that about ought to know that that’s never going to
work in the long run that gets shorter with each day..
It’s so sad that the same garbage
-- of people who see themselves as being the chosen few and as
such they are entitled to possessing everything in sight -- has
to be gone through over and over again, ad infinitum and also ad nauseum.