After 41 days, it’s finally over.
Today, the final four holdouts in the Malheur National Wildlife reserve surrendered to the FBI, ending an occupation called terrorism by some and patriotic protest by others.
Along the way, up to 20 people were arrested, and Robert “LaVoie” Finicum was gunned down by police after appearing to reach for a weapon.
Koin News reporter Andrew Dymburt was there, and joined Drex Live guest host Shane Foxman to break down what happened.
“In the waning moments it all came down to one man, a gun, and a decision. But in the end none of the last four holdouts were hurt.”
Dymburt says the final hours of the occupation were a bit of a “dog an pony show,” with small time local politicians, a Nevada legislator, and even occupation leader Ammon Bundy’s lawyer showing up and trying to get near the reserve.
Sean and Sandy Anderson, Jeff Banta, and David Fry were the last holdouts – but by day’s end Banta came out, preceded by the Andersons.
“They came out hand in hand, holding an American flag, waving it around.”
But Dymburt says things then took a turn for the dramatic, as Fry changed his mind.
“He had a change of heart and instead pointed a gun to his head and was threatening to kill himself.”
Eventually negotiators talked him down without bloodshed – and all four are now sitting in a Portland jail.
With the occupation over, plenty of questions remain. How many people were actually on the property at the peak of the standoff for example?
“It’s very hard to gauge. We asked the FBI that, and for whatever reason they didn’t give us a straight answer.”
Dymburt says part of the problem is that the reserve isn’t just one building, but a sprawling property.
“This wildlife refuge is massive, it’s huge. And they were always spread out, this militia, so it was really hard to get a true head count.”
Why the wait?
Law enforcement took a decidedly hands-off approach to the occupation – one that prompted heavy criticism from some quarters, with accusations the armed militia were left unmolested because they were white.
Dymburt says part of the issue was that officials may have been concerned about making charges stick, with the militia claiming to be protesters exercising first and second amendment rights.
“They just happened to have guns and they’re allowed to bear arms because they have concealed weapons permits. The FBI says no no, this is no peaceful protest, this is a crime.”
But he says the other key element was that the FBI are simply a patient organization, and were interested in avoiding a Waco style bloodbath.
After the highway shootout that saw militia leader Ammon Bundy arrested and Finicum killed, they cut off power and cel service, and allowed anyone who wanted to leave to go.
That left them with the final four, who were posting increasingly agitated videos every day.
“These four radicals stay there. And that’s saying something. These four were so radicalized, more so than the other militia…. [Fry] was shouting things at the FBI like ‘you let Hilary Clinton run for president,’ and ‘Obama care.'”