The weeks-long occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon by anti-government extremists could have ended in a variety of ways — the most worrisome of which is the way of Waco or Ruby Ridge: violently. But Thursday the FBI was able to convince the remaining four occupiers to leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge voluntarily, a conclusion that one expert on anti-government extremism praised as a “nonviolent coda” that reduces the likelihood that sympathizers will seek retribution.
“The final resolution of the standoff, obviously it was tense and it had hiccups,” Mark Pitcavage, a senior researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, told TPM. “But the fact that the four all finally ended up giving themselves up and no one was hurt, and because this was presumably the end of the whole ordeal, it added this nonviolent coda which will characterize that standoff as a whole.”
Such a characterization is important, because any time extremists perceive — rightfully or wrongfully — that the government is to blame when an encounter like this turns violent, it risks breeding more anti-government acts in response. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was said to be inspired by the violent confrontation that ended the Waco siege, which he believed amounted to the government waging war on Americans.
Already, LaVoy Finicum — one of the leaders of the occupation — has been revered as a martyr in anti-government circles after he was shot and killed in an encounter with law enforcement last month at a traffic stop miles away from the refuge. Thursday, after three of the final occupiers departed the facility, the fourth, David Fry, seemed to back out of the plans to turn himself over to the authorities. After an hour of him panicking, authorities and some of his colleagues were able to persuade him to finally leave.
“If events had been switched and if LaVoy Finicum’s death had come last, that would have left a very different impression on a lot of people’s minds,” Pitcavage said. “I think it’s a very good thing that the final four people were able to be coaxed into surrender without there being any need to use force and without there being any casualties for anyone involved.”