One of the biggest questions looming after the death of militiaman LaVoy Finicum in Oregon is how anti-government extremists beyond the Malheur Wildlife Refuge may react.
In the past, violent encounters between the government and right-wing extremists have fueled or inspired other extremists to initiate new confrontations with authorities, experts noted.
While organized militia groups’ reactions may be easier to track online and in social media, frustrated and emboldened lone wolf sympathizers can operate below law enforcement radar. Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, says that in the past he has seen militiamen stand down from escalating confrontations in an organized way. Not necessarily so with the lone wolfs.
“The real risk will come from individuals who don’t have those considerations to take into account about the future of the group, and may be more overcome with anger and may try to do something,” Pitcavage says.
The best example of extremist violence smoking out more extremist violence is the trilogy of Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City.
“The Oklahoma City bombing was a direct retribution for what happened at Waco.”
In extensive interviews with MSNBC before his execution, Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, a man who had sympathized with the militia movement and believed deeply that he was at war with the government, cited the earlier confrontations Ruby Ridge and Waco. “Waco started this war, hopefully Oklahoma would end it. The only way they’re going to feel something, the only way they’re going to get the message is quote, with a body count,” McVeigh said.
There is little doubt that preserving life was a top strategic priority for federal agents as they sought a way to end the standoff, Pitcavage said. Law enforcement authorities know that violent confrontations with extremists can have later repercussions beyond the immediate loss of life.
Finicum had emerged as an articulate mouthpiece at the refuge, an Arizona rancher with 11 children who spoke regularly with reporters at the refuge and worked hard to discourage ranchers across the west from paying grazing fees to the feds. Within hours, Finicum became a martyr for anti-government militiamen and extremists.
My heart & prays go out to LaVoy Finicum’s family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR.Ryan Bundy has been shot in the arm
— Michele Fiore (@VoteFiore) January 27, 2016
Victoria Sharp, an 18-year-old woman who claimed to have been in the car with Finicum at the time of the incident, said in an audio interview posted to YouTube that authorities “just shot him” even though she claims he had hands in the air.
“They shot him dead and then after he was down on the ground they shot him three more times.”
While the exact details of the incident that resulted in Finicum’s death remained unknown, the reaction from standoff supporters did not surprise experts.
“He was well spoken and a true believer in the Bundy’s cause. I think that the way the extremists movement has reacted, already holding him up as a martyr for the cause, give us some indication of how they are going to react,” said Ryan Lenz, a senior writer at the Southern Poverty Law Center.