SHERIFF BACKS CLAIMS OF FBI-LAWBREAKING IN OREGON STANDOFF, Documentary-makers release more evidence that raises questions, by Bob Unruh, 6/29/17, WND
In a stunning development a year after the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, where two-dozen armed supporters gathered to protest the courts’ extension of sentences for two ranchers, a sheriff has backed claims of FBI misbehavior.
The declaration came from Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson just as FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita was pleading not guilty to three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice in federal court in Portland, Oregon.
The FBI agent was accused of firing at the protesters, then picking up shell casings to conceal that fact and lying to investigators.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon said Astarita falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of protester LaVoy Finicum, who was shot dead by another officer during the incident, “when he knew he had in fact fired his weapon.”
“Astarita also knowingly engaged in misleading conduct toward Oregon State Police officers by failing to disclose that he had fired two rounds during the attempted arrest,” the statement said.
Nelson said, as the Washington Times reported, that the actions by “multiple members of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team” had “damaged the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry.”
Nelson said he told Justice Department and FBI officials, including now-acting Director Andrew McCabe, over a year ago about “possible criminal conduct” by some involved FBI Hostage Rescue Team agents.
And while the case against Astarita is in court, new evidence also is arising from the makers of an acclaimed documentary about the incident.
WND reported earlier on the armed standoff that has been variously described by opponents as “militia terrorism” and by defenders as rebellion against government tyranny.
The 41-day standoff ended in mass arrests after law enforcement fatally shot one of the occupiers.
The documentary is “American Standoff,” and while it aired previously on DirecTV, it can now be viewed in its entirety at this website. Among the people interviewed in the documentary is best-selling author and WND Vice President David Kupelian.
The “American Standoff” story starts with Dwight and Steven Hammond, Oregon ranchers who were controversially convicted and sentenced for setting a controlled land-management fire on their property that went out of control onto federal land. But after they served their sentences and were released, a judge – at a federal prosecutor’s insistence – ordered them back into court, where they were sentenced to further time in prison under an anti-terrorism law, even though there was no evidence presented that the ranchers had planned or engaged in terrorism in any way.
Sympathetic ranchers and others – encouraged by the federal government’s stand-down from a previous armed confrontation in Nevada two years earlier on the land of rancher Cliven Bundy – protested the new injustice and ended up staging an armed occupation of the refuge.
They succeeded in keeping federal officers at bay until they were finally taken into custody when police staged a highly dangerous highway stop of vehicles carrying the protesters and shot two men.
Ryan Bundy, one of Cliven Bundy’s sons, was injured, while LaVoy Finicum was killed.
Eventually, seven of the others who were arrested were acquitted of federal charges related to the standoff. The feds even dismissed charges against a self-described independent broadcaster, Peter Santilli, who documented the occupation near Burns, Oregon, but was accused by prosecutors of being part of the protest group.
However, one of the FBI agents was charged with serious infractions of the law for the final confrontation. So far, Astarita is the only FBI agent to be indicted.
In addition to the feature-length “American Standoff” documentary, director Josh Turnbow and his film-making crew have now produced a series of “Aftermath” short video segments that have been posted online.
In the first, Jeanette Finicum, the widow of LaVoy Finicum, explains how the government, after killing her husband, also canceled the lease she needed to continue her family’s ranching operation.
She said she has lawyers fighting to restore the lease.
And she said a wrongful death case is inevitable against the government after a certain legal time period passes.
She insists her husband had his hands in the air and was surrendering but “was murdered.”
“He was mowed down in cold blood.”
Then, the video explains, the federal agents were “caught on camera, picking up casings before the forensic team arrived at the site of the shooting.”
Also, the video shows, Finicum’s gun, which he reportedly had been reaching for, wasn’t found for eight hours after the shooting. “How many people tended to his body without finding it?” the video asks. See the footage of the first segment: The rest of the videos are available online here.
Turnbow told WND the “Aftermath” series continues the stories of people affected by the standoff. In addition to conducting in-depth interviews with nearly everyone involved on all sides of the conflict, Turnbow said he tapped WND’s managing editor, David Kupelian, to offer a journalist’s perspective and analysis.
“I think Josh Turnbow did a terrific job in ‘American Standoff,'” said Kupelian, “not just in fairly and sensitively presenting all sides of a complex and troubling situation, but in telling a riveting, deeply thought-provoking true story about today’s America.”
Kupelian said the documentary “captures the classic modus operandi of an oppressive government: Perpetrate injustice, provoking widespread public outrage, which always includes a small number of people who seriously overreact and, however well-meaning, do something illegal or irresponsible – and then portray them as the real problem, or in this case as ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists.'”
He said the main provocation in the story was “convicting two Oregon cattle ranchers, a father and son team whose controlled burn on their own property had gotten out of control and migrated onto federal land, with under an that mandates a minimum five-year prison sentence.”
“Even the presiding judge said such a severe and unjust sentence would ‘shock the conscience.’ Well, it did shock the conscience of a lot of other ranchers – and the Malheur standoff was the result,” he said.
Turnbow said he would like to find out what really happened and consider what the outcome should have been, especially with regard to the still-imprisoned ranchers serving a five-year “terrorism” sentence. “We should be talking about it,” Turnbow says.
The larger issue at hand – federal control over land in the American West – continues to loom large. The federal government is the largest landowner in the Rocky Mountain and Western states, owning contiguous parcels of millions of acres.
Conflicts between ranchers, who in some instances have owned and worked their land for generations, and a federal government seemingly always hungry for more, are common.
President Trump’s recent executive order to review the possibility of shrinking the boundaries of federal monuments could help defuse the longstanding tensions between America’s ranchers and the government.