“This is not just a little occupation. It’s a movement that’s taking place across the country.”
Those were the words of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum a day before he was killed by federal agents along Highway 395 north of Burns, OR. Finicum was a rancher, father and husband from Cane Beds, AZ. He had traveled to Harney County, OR, to join a protest of the imprisonment of fellow ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond—and of the federal government’s ownership of almost half of the landmass in the western states.
On Jan. 2, Finicum and a group of fellow protestors had set up camp in a vacant federal compound on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles outside of Burns. At print time, the occupation continued.
The two objects of their protest—Hammonds’ imprisonment and federal land ownership—are tied: Hammonds had started fires on their private property to protect and improve the range, and those fires had subsequently spread onto a total of roughly 140 acres of rangeland owned by the federal government. The government charged the two men under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. A judge originally sentenced them to just over a year in prison in 2013. But after they’d served their time, the government appealed for a longer sentence: the antiterrorism Act calls for a “mandatory minimum sentence” of five years. The two were forced to go back to prison on Jan. 4 of this year.
...Over the course of the month, the occupiers continued spreading their message.
WLJ has transcribed parts of several interviews Bundy did. At the core of his message was this statement:
“I still believe that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land,” Bundy said. The Constitution, he continued, does not allow the federal government to own the millions of acres it lays claim to in the West.
He noted that Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution “puts restrictions on the federal government when it comes to controlling land and resources inside a state.” Specifically, Bundy explained that in order for the federal government to own property inside a state, the government must do three things: get the consent of the state legislature; purchase the land; and only use the land “for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.”
Bundy believes the County of Harney should be in control of federal lands within its borders—lands such as the 180,000-acre Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“People have to have access to their land and resources,” Bundy said in one interview. “If they don’t, then they are literally put into poverty.... So whoever controls the land and the resources has full control of the people. And that’s why our founding fathers were so adamant that the only safe place for the resources was distributed in the individual people’s hands—and that it was not safe that government get a huge amount of control of these resources, because they begin to use it for themselves, and the people get put into poverty. And that’s exactly what’s happened here in Harney County.”
This is excellent coverage of the events and issues.