The weeks-long armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon has lost its erstwhile leader and several other key personnel, with the apprehension and arrest of Arizona businessman Ammon Bundy on a remote stretch of road last night along with his brother Ryan and three others. Unfortunately one supporter was shot and killed during the episode, two other key Bundy supporters were arrested in the nearby town of Burns without incident, and a seventh person has turned himself in to authorities in Arizona.
That's not nearly the end of the saga -- as of this writing, a score or more of armed men are still holed up in the refuge and have called upon a network of anti-government extremists to join them -- but it does mark a swift and significant turn for the worse in the remaining occupiers' position.
We've also taken note of Ammon Bundy's leadership style, which appears to be imprinted from John Galt, the fictional hero of Ayn Rand's definitive libertarian novel "Atlas Shrugged." However, where Galt's superior intellect enabled him to plan for victory against a powerful foe, Bundy has blundered from one mishap to another, alienating every single conceivable stakeholder from local residents on up.
That failure of leadership has been coming into focus as the standoff enters its fourth week. Until now, law enforcement officials have taken a hands-off approach, and Bundy and his supporters have been able to come and go at will from the refuge. While this strategy has been extremely frustrating for residents and state officials, and it has provided the occupiers with ample time to rack up a wide range of offenses, including the destruction of federal property and the disruption of an important archaeological site, while drawing in additional armed extremists from around the country.
In effect, law enforcement turned the occupation into a honey trap, providing federal authorities with a convenient way to catalog armed and potentially dangerous extremists from all around the country.
The trap was finally sprung when Bundy made yet another in his series of tactical mistakes. Last night, with almost all of his key supporters in tow, he headed out on the open road to attend a well-publicized meeting in a neighboring county, where he had been invited to spread his views to a friendly audience.
The road-trip provided law enforcement with an opportunity to confront almost all of the occupation's leadership together, isolated from the other occupiers, in a remote location where there were no bystanders to endanger and no shelter in which to hunker down for a final standoff.
At least two Bundy supporters who were with the two-car convoy were apprehended but not arrested. Both appear to be cooperating with law enforcement and have gone online to plead for calm in the wake of the fatal encounter, warning other extremists against coming to the area.
In that regard, it's worth noting that Bundy apparently maintains a residence in Idaho. His brother Ryan resides in Nevada, and the three others arrested with him on the road are also from out of state: Brian Cavalier of Nevada, Shawna Cox of Utah, and Ryan Payne of Montana. The person who was killed, Robert Finicum, is from Arizona.
The two persons arrested in Burns are Joseph D. O'Shaughnessy of Arizona and radio personality Pete Santilli of Ohio. Rounding out this initial group of arrests is Jon Ritzheimer, who surrendered himself to authorities in his home state of Arizona.
With almost all of its key leadership behind bars, the occupation finally appears to be on the path to collapse, whether that takes a matter of days, weeks or months.
Image (screenshot, cropped): Coyote pups at Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.