Oregon militia spokesman LaVoy Finnicum killed and leader Ammon Bundy arrested in standoff with police

Bundy is the leader of an armed militia, which began occupying the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a battle over the US government's control of land

The group were stopped on Highway 395 between Burns and John Day, Oregon
The group were stopped on Highway 395 between Burns and John Day, Oregon

The lengthy stand-off between armed anti-government activists and the authorities in rural Oregon has finally descended into violence, with one protester shot dead, several others arrested, and the remote federal buildings where they staged their occupation surrounded by the FBI.

Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 55, who regularly acted as a spokesman for the militant group, was killed on Tuesday afternoon after he and five other occupiers were pulled over by the FBI and Oregon state police on a highway some 50 miles north of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, which the protesters have occupied since early January.

Ammon Bundy is the leader of the group who occupied the ranch earlier in January

The group were driving to a community meeting in the town of John Day when their vehicles were flagged down at around 4.30pm. It is thought Mr Finicum and another occupier, 40-year-old Ryan Bundy, refused to surrender. Mr Finicum was shot and killed, while Mr Bundy suffered a minor gunshot wound to his arm. He and the four other surviving activists were arrested.

At a press conference, the FBI declined to offer further details of the incident or to identify the dead man, but Mr Finicum’s family confirmed he was the one killed during the confrontation. “My dad was such a good, good man, through and through,” 26-year-old Arianna Finicum Brown, one of his 11 children, told The Oregonian. “He would never ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom and he knew the risks involved.”

Mr Finicum’s cowboy hat and ear-warmers had become a familiar sight at the occupation. He was one of several US ranchers who had refused to pay fees to graze his cattle on federal land, along with Cliven Bundy, Ryan’s father, whose own stand-off with authorities in Nevada in 2014 became a right-wing cause célèbre. The Bundy Ranch paid tribute to Mr Finicum on its Facebook page, saying: “America was fired upon by our government and one of liberty’s finest patriots is fallen.”

 Robert 'LaVoy' Finicum was killed in the incident

The five arrested occupiers, including Ryan Bundy and his brother Ammon, 40, the group’s de facto leader, were charged with conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats. Harney County Sheriff David Ward said police could have waited “a lot longer” to confront the group, but that the occupation “has been tearing our community apart.”

The militants, calling themselves “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom”, began their occupation of the Malheur refuge headquarters on 2 January, after two local ranchers were ordered to return to prison to complete their terms for arson. Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, were convicted of setting fires that spread onto federal land in 2001 and 2006.

Around 15 men and women seized the unmanned federal buildings, making vague demands, including the release of the Hammonds, and the return of the federally managed refuge lands to local landowners. They carried firearms openly, and called on fellow “patriots” to join their protest. Speaking to reporters early on in the occupation, Mr Finicum said: “There are things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them... I’m prepared to defend freedom.”

During the occupation, the protesters had moved back and forth between the refuge and the nearby town of Burns unhindered by the authorities, who seemed keen to avoid a violent confrontation. On Tuesday, however, two more of the protesters were arrested in Burns, while Jon Ritzheimer, another prominent occupier, turned himself into police in Arizona. The seven protesters arrested in Oregon were expected to appear in court in Portland on Wednesday, while Mr Ritzheimer will be extradited from Arizona to face the same conspiracy charge.

Up to a dozen militiamen were thought still to be at the refuge, after voting amongst themselves to continue the occupation. The FBI and Oregon state police said that they had “initiated a containment” of the refuge headquarters, establishing checkpoints on the road that leads to the occupied buildings. FBI Agent Greg Bretzing told reporters that the law enforcement response to the occupation had been “deliberate and measured,” adding: “It is the actions and choices of the armed occupiers of the refuge that have lead us to where we are today.”

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