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.
On Tuesday, 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.
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 early Wednesday. “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 Tuesday’s shootout. Citing the ongoing investigation, the agency has refused to identify who was killed, even though reporters and the remaining occupiers have said it was Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
Already, rumors are circulating online that authorities killed Finicum while he was on his knees with his hands up. The FBI has not responded, again citing the investigation, although a witness has come forward to say Finicum charged at police.
Jason Patrick, who took over as leader after Bundy was arrested and shipped off to Portland, said he wants the FBI to release dash-cam video of the incident – if it exists. That’s a good idea. Transparency, along with a serious reality check, is the only way to avoid making what was already a bad situation worse.