And so the great Malheur refuge takeover that was supposed to herald a revolution of constitutional patriots against a tyrannical government ended with a whimper as the four remaining holdouts surrendered and were arrested. Other people have also been arrested in other states.
It looks like the authorities had learned from earlier fiascos where they tried to meet bravado with force, resulting in bloodshed. This time they tried a cautious wait-and-see attitude, trying out various options such as mixing giving the occupiers lots of freedom to restricting it, coupled with negotiations, and waiting for them to emerge.
Almost every aspect of the six-week standoff – lying low, using a roadblock to arrest eight of the militants last month, and using an outside intermediary to coax the last four occupiers to leave the refuge – was the result of decades of trial and error, including some spectacular failures the FBI is anxious not to repeat.
Gary Noesner, a retired FBI hostage negotiator, said he was consulted three times during the Oregon standoff. The first two times he offered the same broad advice that was eventually followed: hang back, be patient, and let local law enforcement take the lead to undermine the argument that the feds were out to get the occupiers.
The third time, however, Noesner was more critical, questioning whether it was a good idea to let the occupiers come and go as they pleased and restock. Shortly afterwards, the FBI and Oregon police set up the roadblock that led to the arrest of eight people including the occupation ringleader, Ammon Bundy, and the fatal shooting of militiaman LaVoy Finicum.
“I thought they [the protesters] might be getting a little too comfortable in there,” Noesner told the Guardian. “I didn’t think they should let them come and go. You can’t really expect to resolve a situation if you give people complete freedom of movement.”
The roadblock was another classic FBI technique. Experience has taught the agency that the safest way to make an arrest is if you can get people away from their supporters and pick a spot away from the public that has been vetted in advance. “We call it the mobile option, and it’s almost always successful.”
The arrest of Cliven Bundy at the Portland airport seems like an entirely unforced error on the part of the militants because had been seen as the symbol of successful resistance. Why he decided that announcing publicly that he was going to Oregon was a good idea is a mystery. This enabled the authorities to monitor flights and once they knew he was on the plane to Portland, all they had to do was wait at the gate there to pick him up, knowing that there would be no weapons and no mass of supporters.
His appearance in court must have been less than inspirational for his followers who may have expected a show of defiance.
In Portland this afternoon, Cliven Bundy shuffled into the courtroom looking tired, wearing a light blue prison jumpsuit and sandals – with his ankles chained together. For about 30 minutes he sat with his attorney, from the public defenders’ office, talking over the 32-page indictment, while the courtroom looked on quietly and judge Janice Stewart waited in her chambers.
The judge also strongly urged the outspoken Bundy not to talk about the case with anyone aside from his attorney. Asked whether he understood, Bundy mumbled, “yes.”
It was the only word he said before the court in the first day of hearings.
The judge also said the court would need to determine whether he had the finances to pay for his own attorney or be allowed to continue with a court-appointed one.
Given that he seems to be, on the surface at least, a person of considerable means, the irony asking for a government-funded attorney seems to have been lost on Bundy, especially considering that he and his supporters think the government is tyrannical. You can read the criminal complaint against him here.
Now that he is their custody, the government is throwing the book at him for his threatened use of force and defiance of orders and his incitement of others to do the same. But is the shackling of his ankles really necessary? Is it routinely done? An elderly man hardly seems likely to make a break for it. If it is done only to deliberately humiliate someone, then it is wrong.
But the question remains as to whether the authorities would adopt this same patient approach if in a future standoff the people resisting are minorities or Muslims, or whether such a soft gloved treatment is only reserved for a privileged class.