A View from the Trenches – from my Perspective – by Todd Macfarlane
This past week has been one of the hardest, saddest weeks of my life.
As many know, I am an attorney, and I represent the family of LaVoy Finicum. On Tuesday, LaVoy was ambushed and killed by the FBI and Oregon State Police in a roadblock as he was attempting to travel to an adjoining county.
Late the next morning, after I had done my ranch chores and was finally trying to settle down to get some work done, I heard an awful noise from another room in our house. I went there in alarm to find my wife sobbing uncontrollably. She had just watched the FBI’s video depicting the end of LaVoy Finicum’s life as he was cornered like a trapped animal with his hands in the air and no where to turn, and they executed him in cold blood, then left him to lay in the snow and bleed out, with not even the slightest attempt to save his life. She said that seeing him lie so helplessly in the snow broke her heart, and was simply more than she could stand.
Here’s my take: Oregon Governor Kate Brown just couldn’t wait any longer. So after less than a week of attempted negotiations, the agencies involved were out for blood. To that end, from what I understand, Governor Brown authorized the use of any force necessary to end it – regardless of the consequences.
What she and others, including federal officials and local Harney County officials obviously don’t understand is that if they had just simply ignored Ammon Bundy and his followers at the refuge, eventually the whole thing would have just shriveled up and died. But an approach like that would require too much common sense. So instead, they pretended that it was some kind of really big thing — that by being at the refuge the occupiers were allegedly “impeding federal officers” in their duties, and “disrupting local community,” when in reality it seems fairly clear that it is the government’s own actions and personnel that are causing virtually all the disruption.
And what a mess their decision to escalate has now caused. Does anyone remember the movie “First Blood?” Now there are literally legions of federal agents and “contractors” in Burns. Someone I know, a local rancher, tried to strike up a conversation with one of the fancily uniformed agents in a sandwich shop. He was clearly a big husky federal operative. The rancher first asked him what he was doing here, the agent said “security” then he was asked “for which side of the fence” to which the agent answered “the right side, I hope” he was then asked if he was a 3%er?. “no”, national guard?, “no”, OSP? …Uh, “yes”. When asked where he was from he said “Up North.” The rancher said, “where, Hermiston or Pendleton?, ”the agent said uh, Hermiston, yes. The rancher said, “that’s interesting because I grew up in Hermiston, and my mother still lives there. At that the agent stuttered and stammered around and said no more. End of conversation. The rancher then thought, “right!!. . that’s why there’s a half dozen black stretch suburbans with Minnesota private plates out front that you guys got out of. And why did you look me in the eye and have to lie about it. Is that what this is coming to?”. The rancher thought , “how stupid do you think we are here and if you aren’t subversives, then why do you need to lie?
After weeks of people being able to come and go at the Malheur Wildlife refuge for weeks – from what I saw, I swear the federal employees could have gone out there and done whatever work really needed doing — now that there are only four people left, there are heavily armed, militarized check points on all the roads around the refuge. And you should see what happens at those checkpoints.
From what I understand, it’s not just a matter of showing your papers and explaining your business. If you approach one of the checkpoints, you are warned that you will be shot if you do anything other than exactly what you are told. From what I understand, these checkpoints are fortified with multiple vehicles, including Bearcats, with .50 caliber machine guns. To determine whether anyone who approaches a checkpoint has any business there, they make people get out of their vehicles – obviously at gunpoint, with the .50 cals always ready. Then they make people lay down on the ground, and they handcuff them before engaging in invasive, heavy-handed searches for weapons and other contraband.
That’s what another rancher I know encountered when he tried to go feed his cows. When he pulled up to the checkpoint, someone on a bullhorn threatened to shoot him if he made any misstep, before searching him as described, before finally allowing him to pass to do his chores. This is what locals are experiencing at the hands of the fully militarized police forces restricting their travel and activities in the area.
And thanks to the spin the government is putting on all of it, with the help of the mainstream media, this heavy-handed approach is all more than justified because a bunch of batshit crazy nutjobs camped out at the wildlife refuge.
Thanks to all the distortions, even if the protestors have any legitimate points – like the injustices to the Hammond Family – it’s all lost in the spin, and they don’t stand a chance in the court of public opinion, or in the court system.
Which reminds me, I was arguing a case last week before the Utah Court of Appeals in Cedar City. They were visiting Southern Utah University for this court session, so it was kind of a special occasion, and a big deal (at least to some). A number of local attorneys and judges were present to observe the proceedings. A couple of them are very good, long-time friends of mine. One is a guy I went to college and law school with who is now a vice president at SUU. The other is one of my former law partners, who is now a judge. He was one of my mentors as an attorney, and one of the best lawyers I have ever known. I have always had a lot of respect for him, and hold him in high regard. They were sitting together.
Afterward, as I was visiting with my law school buddy-turned-university administrator, he said that while I was arguing or during my comings and goings associated with the proceedings, our friend the judge leaned over and asked him if he had been seeing me on TV. My friend had to admit that he hadn’t and asked what that was all about. Our friend, the judge said “he’s been up there with those ‘nutcases’ in Oregon.”
Now, let’s just think a little bit about all of that. I think it’s fair to say that his statement probably reflected the views of about 90% of all Americans. It’s all about labels. By letting labels do most of the thinking, it keeps things a lot simpler in most people’s minds. That way they don’t have to try to understand the real issues.
But here’s the even bigger concern: it’s probably the view of about 99% of all judges. So, can you imagine anyone involved in this whole affair getting any kind of fair and impartial hearing before any judge — state or federal? What a comforting thought.
In the meantime, I’m going to be working on a piece about the realities of the Federal Court System when it comes to Western land & resource use cases.