fresh voices from the front lines of change







This week two major right-wing crusades that started out with pretty big bangs — the Oregon Standoff and the Planned Parenthood sting — ended with  disappointing (for wingnuts) whimpers.

Almost Over In Oregon

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The standoff at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was to have all the makings of another Alamo. Even if that was only true in the minds of the well-armed, self-appointed “militiamen” who holed up there and swore to remain until the government handed over federal lands so that private ranchers like them could make a tidy profit at public expense.

It started with a bang, in a kind of half-assed way, as a march and rally in support of a pair of father-son ranchers-turned arsonists, who decided they’d rather go to prison than have anything to do with the Bundys. The “militiamen” treked to the Malheur refuge, announced their occupation, and made it clear they were just itching for a shootout if federal agents tried to oust them.

It’s hard to blame them. It’s been a long time since Ruby Ridge and Waco, and the feds have gone out of their way not to give right-wingers another rallying cry or a new set of martyrs. The Malheur occupation seemed to be a shrewd attempt to goad federal agents into the confrontation that the wingnuts wanted but didn’t get back at Cliven Bundy’s ranch. The government gave them plenty of time to get bored, let their guards down, become more of a nuisance, and make fools of themselves.


It went on for nearly a month. Then, late Tuesday evening came news of arrests, a shootout, and one death. In the end, the “militiamen” didn’t get the gun battle with federal agents that they longed for, or martyrdom that would have made them right-wing saints, and the subjects of countless fundraising campaigns.

There would be no going out in a blaze of glory for these guys. Instead, the FBI nabbed eight of the occupiers in a traffic stop, including both of the Bundy Brothers. Those arrested were: Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, Ryan Payne, Joe O’Shaughnessy, and Pete Santilli. O’Shaughnessy famously drank away donation money he’d solicited over social media, according to a tearful video by a fellow militant. (Another militant, Kenneth Mendenbach, was arrested earlier this month, for driving a government vehicle stolen from the wildlife refuge.)


Three more of the militants surrendered to authorities the next day. Jason Patrick, Duane Leo Ehmer and Dylan Wade Anderson were arrested and charged with felony conspiracy to impede federal officers.

The feds were probably spurred to action by accounts that the group planned to escalate with armed takeovers of federal lands in neighboring Grant County (where the sheriff supported some of their demands), and Utah. Lavoy Finicum and Ryan Bundy travelled to Utah to meet with county officials eager to engage in a similar standoff over public lands.

The only person killed was Finicum, who became known as “Blue Tarp Man” after a video of him sitting under a blue tarp with a gun in his lap went viral. Even before details of what happened on the road outside of Malheur emerged, wingnuts attempted to fashion Finicum into a martyr for their cause. Nevada state Rep. Michelle Fiore (R) tweeted that Finicum was “murdered with his hands up.”

A post on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page claimed that Finicum was “shot and murdered in cold blood.” Other claims circulated that Finicum was on his knees when shot. Republican Assemblywoman Shelly Shelton bizarrely compared Finicum to Jesus and Moses in a Facebook post.

Eyewitness accounts posted in at least two Facebook videos tell a different story of Finicum’s death. Finicum was part of a convoy heading to a meeting concerning a planned armed takeover of federal land in Grant County, Oregon, when they were stopped by law enforcement serving an arrest warrant. According to Melvin Lee an argument broke out between the men in the truck. Finicum hit a snowbank trying to get around the blockade, got out of the truck and charged at law enforcement officers.


Bundy bodyguard Mark McConnell confirmed that Finicum got out of his truck after hitting a snowbank and charged at police officers.


At least one account says that when ordered to surrender, Finicum reached for his waistband, where he kept his Colt .45.

And if the eyewitness accounts aren’t enough, the FBI says that Finicum reached for a gun. The shooting was captured on video by SWAT officers, and contradicts claims that Finicum was shot while trying to surrender. The FBI released the 26-minute video, and a briefer video, which clearly show Finicum twice reaching towards his waist, where he was known to carry a Colt .45.


Nonetheless, militants issued warnings and promises of a “bloodbath” after Finicum’s death.


Now that the planned arrest of the group’s leaders worked, all that’s left at Malheur now are four stragglers shown in a livestream video drinking beer, smoking marijuana, and waiting for that shootout with law enforcement. Ammon Bundy has already told them to go home. The FBI has sealed off the refuge and set up checkpoints and roadblocks to ensure that the rest finally leave they will quickly join their comrades in facing a 32-page criminal complaint from the Department of Justice.


Despite the doubts expressed by some progressives as the standoff wore on, it looks like the government’s measured response actually worked.


From Accuser to Accused

At the risk of repeating myself, it wasn’t supposed to end this way. The video-hoax tactic that conservatives used to bring down ACORN was supposed to be a sure bet to bring down Planned Parenthood. Instead, 11 different investigations in various states cleared Planned Parenthood. Then, surprisingly, an investigation — in Texas, of all places — resulted in indictments. Last year, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick had the Harris County prosecutor open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood. But instead of leveling misconduct charges against Planned Parenthood, the grand jury handed down indictments against the anti-choicers who made the videos.


David Daleiden, director of the Center for Medical Progress was indicted and faces a felony charge of tampering with a government record, and a misdemeanor count related to buying human tissue. Center for Medical Progress employee Sandra Merritt was indicted on one charge of tampering with a government record.

Daleiden put together a fake company called Biomax Procurement Services. He and Merritt assumed aliases and used face California drivers’ licenses to get into a Planned Parenthood center in Houston, for a meeting they’d scheduled with the intent to defraud or harm Planned Parenthood, by videotaping the meetings and deceptively editing the videos.


Any teenager knows that faking a driver’s license is illegal. What tripped up the CMP fraudsters is that Texas state law elevates it to a felony if “the intent is to defraud and harm another.” Of course, that was exactly CMP’s goal.

Needless to say, the indictments changed nothing as far as right wingers are concerned.


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