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Friday, December 15, 2017

By Peter Henderson

BURNS, Ore. (Reuters) — Four die-hard anti-government militants held their ground at an Oregon wildlife refuge on Friday, a day after the FBI released a video of the fatal shooting of one of the protesters at a traffic stop.

As the standoff with federal authorities neared the end of its fourth week, Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland office, said on Thursday night authorities were trying to negotiate with the four holdouts.

They are holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 30 miles (48 km) from Burns, a small ranging town in the state’s arid southeast.

The movement’s jailed leader, Ammon Bundy, has issued two separate messages through his attorney urging the few remaining protesters at to stand down, saying the group would continue their fight against federal land policy in court.

The occupation began on Jan. 2 when Bundy and at least a dozen followers occupied a small cluster of buildings at the refuge in a flare-up in the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres in the West.

The FBI took the unusual step on Thursday of releasing video footage of the shooting of 54-year-old Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher from Arizona who had acted as a spokesman for the occupiers.

The video was released hours after a lawyer for Finicum’s family said other evidence may exist that shows the Arizona rancher was not threatening authorities.

On Tuesday, some of the group’s most recognizable members, including Bundy, were stopped by the FBI and Oregon State Police as they headed to a speaking event. Bundy and four others were taken into custody and Finicum was killed.

VIDEO OF SHOOTING

Authorities said Finicum was armed when he was killed. Aerial video taken from a law enforcement aircraft shows Finicum speeding away from authorities in a white truck and nearly striking a law officer, while trying to evade a police barricade before barreling into a snowbank and exiting the car.

The grainy footage shows Finicum raise his hands in the air and then turn and flail his arms, which lower down to his body before he is shot by Oregon State Police troopers, according to the FBI.

Bretzing, who narrated the video for reporters, said Finicum can be seen reaching for his jacket pocket, where law enforcement found a handgun. But the lack of focus in the video makes it difficult to discern Finicum’s precise movements before the shooting.

“Based on some things that I’ve seen, I think there is potentially a completely different side to the story compared to what is being represented,” Finicum family attorney Todd Macfarlane told Reuters. He could not be reached for reaction to the FBI video release.

Macfarlane said one of the sources for his view was the version of events from Victoria Sharp, who says she was at the scene and watched Finicum die.

Sharp said in an interview with Reuters that Finicum was shot with his gun in his holster and his hands in the air, shouting and walking toward police.

Neither state nor federal law enforcement would comment on whether Sharp was at the scene or on her own detailed description. Reuters was not able to independently confirm her version of the events.

The FBI’s Bretzing told reporters that the law enforcement’s video was released “in the interest of transparency.”

Following his initial court appearance in Portland on Wednesday, Ammon Bundy urged the holdouts to stand down, saying he would continue the fight in court.

Reactions to the takeover by Burns residents have ranged from sympathy for two imprisoned local ranchers whose plight began the protest, to dismay at the armed occupation by individuals seen as outsiders.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Daniel Wallis in Denver, Victoria Cavaliere and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, and Julia Edwards in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty and Frances Kerry)

Photo: Aerial video released by the FBI January 28, 2016 shows a law enforcement officer (L) pointing a weapon at a man who had just stepped out of the white pickup truck at a police roadblock January 26 near Burns, Oregon. REUTERS/FBI/Handout via Reuters