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Trial By YouTube: Mainstream Media Use Second-hand Oregon Account to Cast Blame on Dead Rancher

Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire

There exists a famous quote often attributed to 1918 US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson, who once said, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.The same could be said for Waco, or Ruby Ridge – or with the federal government’s version of recent events in Burns, Oregon. 

What really happened on Highway 395? We’re not sure yet, but in the meantime, it seems as if the mainstream media have already decided who is guilty and and who is not.

Regarding the Tuesday evening’s events at the Oregon Standoff, where federal agents shot and killed rancher Robert ‘Lavoy’ Finicum, a campaign of disinformation appears to be rapidly underway. The following is a prime exhibit of how the mainstream media can spin a story to favor the government version of events.

The Washington Post’s brash headline reads, “Report: LaVoy Finicum, armed with a handgun, reached for his waistband just before he was shot.”

In the absence of any actual evidence, or even analysis to support this deceptive headline, instead Washington Post writer Mike Miller attempts to weave together a classic example of yellow journalism.

Any speculation or public skepticism could be easily put to rest by the FBI releasing all video footage of the event in question.

(Above screen shot: Washington Post)

Miller begins his piece establishing Finicum’s guilt in his own murder by nature of the fact that Robert ‘Lavoy’ Finicum had been seen previously carrying a gun.

“Everyone knew that LaVoy Finicum kept a Colt .45 on his hip. That common knowledge could help explain how the occupier in Oregon died.”

Miller’s article then hammers home the federal thesis that any injured or dead protesters “brought it on themselves”:

“The occupiers had ample opportunity to leave peacefully,” FBI Special Agent Greg Bretzing said Wednesday morning. “They brought this on themselves.”

In other words, according to the FBI, and with the help of the media, dead rancher Lavoy Finicum is guilty in the court of public opinion.

Marginalizing the Witness

Miller immediate moves to cast doubt on the testimony of 18 yr old Victoria Sharp, who was a passenger in the truck Finicum was driving, crassly describing the young woman as a “self-described witness”. He adds:

“Another self-described witness disputes that, saying that authorities opened fire before the getaway chase and that Finicum had his hands up when he was shot.”

STOIC: Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and Lavoy Finicum at the Wildlife Refuge last week.

Instead, Miller relies heavily on a YouTube video recorded and uploaded by a man named Mark McConnell who was not at the scene of the actual shooting (he admits that he was one mile away) when federal agents reportedly killed Finicum. Admittedly, McConnell’s testimony, claiming that Finicum had “charged at the officers” is only second-hand, or possibly third-hand, depending on the accuracy of what he is attempting relaying from other passengers riding with in the vehicle with Sharp at the time, Ryan Payne and Shawna Cox.

Here, McConnell is, in effect, issuing a proxy statement on behalf of Victoria Sharp’s fellow passengers, Shawn Cox and Ryan Payne. This is hardly admissible, as both Cox and Payne are currently in federal custody and are not able to verify the accuracy of McConnell reiteration. And yet, mainstream media outlets are propping-up McConnell’s account as if it were somehow factual.

Clearly, this is a ‘nudging’ exercise, carefully attempting to minimize and discredit the young female witness Sharp. The Post’s Miller makes this blatantly obvious when he subtly inserts that Sharp, “who said she was the 18 year old in the car with Finicum”. What? ‘Who said she was the 18 yr old…’? Here is in context:

“McConnell’s account conflicts with statements made by Victoria Sharp, who said she was the 18-year-old in the car with Finicum.”

One would think that a Washington Post headline journalist would have ample resources to confirm whether or not Sharp was in the truck or not.

Why are mainstream media outlets so quick to try and discredit the testimony of Victoria Sharp?

Unlike the mainstream media’s ‘go-to’ man McConnell, Victoria Sharp is an actual eye witness who saw first-hand the fateful event in question, and described it in detail immediately after the event during a phone interview. What’s more amazing is how a newspaper like the Washington Post, presumably with a good reputation for high journalistic standards (one would think so anyway) would grab a recycled, second-hand account which first appeared on the tabloid news website Raw Story.

What The Post is attempting to do here is clear: to try and align a secondhand speculative guess by McConnell with a vague ‘anonymous’ statement leaked from the FBI to CNN.

Sadly for news consumers, it’s not uncommon that networks like CNN will often accept vague anonymous leaks from “sources” in order to construct an official narrative of any event – with absolutely zero accountability from either the government source, or the news network.

It’s almost as if Miller is writing this piece on behalf of the FBI.

At the very least here, the Washington Post is playing a supporting role – acting as an additional PR channel and echo chamber for a claim which neither CNN or the government are required to either confirm or deny.

‘Sources’ Say Finicum Was Reaching for His Waistband

Rather than question any of the claims fashioned by CNN and its ‘sources’ journalist Mike Miller does the opposite – he tries to reinforce the government narrative.

CNN International’s report hinges on a “anonymous government source” claiming that Finicum was killed by federal agents because he was “reaching towards his waistband.” Miller writes:

“In the moments before he was shot by authorities Tuesday afternoon, Finicum led a high-speed getaway attempt. He then reached for his waistband, prompting authorities to open fire, according to a CNN report.

The report, which cites anonymous law enforcement officials but has not been confirmed by The Washington Post, is corroborated by a statement from an occupier who said he was traveling with Finicum at the time of the traffic stop.”

The fact the media have chosen to label this incident as a “traffic stop” indicates an obvious agenda designed to minimize the obvious – that this was a pre-planned, elaborate ambush by the FBI and Oregon State Police.

The Washington Post then tries to enhance CNN’s phantom report by aligning the government narrative with the second-hand story presented by Mark McConnell, further propping-up the government’s version of events:

This same unnamed “source” cited by CNN has also told the network that the incident was captured on video by the FBI, but that authorities “have not decided whether or not the release the video.”

One indication that this anonymous leak to CNN is likely bogus is the fact that the statement says Finicum “reached for his waistband”, but chose not to say, “reached for his gun” – which offers the government a convenient exit from their previous statement should an unincriminating video ever surface for public viewing. In addition, the fact that the alleged damning video has not already been released could mean that the video footage in question does not support the government innuendo story which has been leaked out via government-media information channels.

Any public distrust or skepticism of the federal authorities would immediately be dispelled by speed release of all video footage (with dozens of agents and surveillance, there should have been more than one video feed taken, including body and gun sight cameras) of the event. Whether or not, and how fast this will happen remains to be seen.

Two Versions of Events

What’s abundantly clear after listening to both McConnell and Sharp’s conflicting testimonies, is that McConnell’s statement  is quite obviously unreliable and full of self-contradictions and caveats, while Sharp’s is clear and concise.

The following is the testimony of Victoria Sharp, recorded in the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Oregon highway 395:

Sharp’s firsthand eyewitness account is contrasted by the secondhand story relayed by Mark McConnell here:

Washington Post: ‘No Ambush’

Anyone looking at this story can see clearly that protesters’ vehicles were traveling to a pre-arranged community event in the nearby small town of John Day – an event supported by neighboring Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer. Palmer was sympathetic to the Bundy’s protest and publicly called for the release of the Hammond family whom he believes were wrongfully imprisoned. Oregon Live reported the Palmer was there at the FBI roadblock on Highway 395 alongside a large contingent of armed Federal Agents. If true, this would indicates that Palmer had prior knowledge federal ambush, but more importantly, that he clearly ceded his own legal and Consitutional authority as the county’s chief law enforcement official over to the FBI’s special agent in charge Greg Bretzing. Absent of any public statement from Palmer on the matter, onlookers can only speculate about this situation.

IMPORTANT NOTE (UPDATE 1-30-16): According to this recent report by Pedro Quintana from Central Oregon local affiliate News Channel 21, Sheriff Palmer was not at the federal roadblock and had no prior knowledge of the FBI ambush of the Bundy convoy. According to the chat session relayed in Pedro Quintana’s report, Palmer was asked in an online chat, “Did you witness Lavoy shooting, or no?”, to which Palmer replies, “NO… The shooting from what I hear was close to 4 and I heard of it at about 5:45pm.” News 21continued:

“Palmer responded he had no knowledge of anything about the plans or who was coming to the public meeting. He went on to say that the “FBI and Oregon State Police know me, they shared nothing with me and they know I wouldn’t have allowed it.”

Earlier mainstream media reports that Palmer was present at the FBI roadblock would lead Bundy supporters to believe that Palmer had betrayed the Bundys and Lavoy Finicum. One the main sources, if not the main source of the original Sheriff Palmer controversy appears to be none other than Oregon Live staff writer Les Zaitz who has slipped-in this key piece of line into his report which which says:

“They said they didn’t know how long the roadblock would be place. Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer was there.”

Not surprisingly, this has set-off a virtual backlash online against the Grant County Sheriff, as evidenced by the following screen shot of Google search link found here:

Palmer-Godlike Productions
Is this a case of media dirty tricks by Oregon Live? Certainly, Oregon Live’s coverage of Burns events has been skewed from the beginning, and have been running character assassination pieces against Malheur occupiers in a effort to discredit the protest. Sheriff Palmer is clearly on record as being sympathetic to the Hammond Ranch protest and had recently opened up a constructive dialogue with the Bundys and occupiers from Malheur Wildlife Refuge. If Pedro Quintana’s News 21 report is indeed accurate, then one might conclude that Oregon Live put out a piece of disinformation, likely designed to further divide the protest movement and create dissension in militia and activist ranks.

However, until Sheriff Glenn Palmer comes out and issues clear statement declaring where he was – and where he wasn’t, then people will continue to speculate what really happened.

NOTE: See more in depth and legal analysis on Sheriff Palmer and the FBI’s operation at Free Capitalist.

Amazingly, The Post’s writer Mike Miller goes on to all but admit a premeditated ambush of the protester’s vehicles on Highway 395, and yet, will not call it what it was – an ambush:

“According to the CNN report, the FBI and Oregon State Police had been watching occupiers come and go from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns for days before they spotted a rare opportunity to nab the militant movement’s leaders all at once: Finicum, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and a handful of others climbed into two trucks and drove from the refuge to a meeting in John Day, Ore., two hours north.”

“Authorities chose a cold, deserted stretch of highway to attempt a traffic stop. One vehicle complied with orders and pulled over, but the other — allegedly driven by Finicum — sped off at high speed, according to the report.”

It should be noted (although never by the Washington Post or CNN) that the protest’s leader, Ammon Bundy, had met with FBI negotiators that morning continuing an open dialogue that had been going on for weeks. This, plus the fact that Sheriff Palmer had invited Bundy and his fellow protesters to the community event in John Day, demonstrated that both the Federal government and the local Sheriff had acted in bad faith by drawing all of the main protesters out to the town of John Day, along a pre-planned route, before staging such an ambush with overwhelming force just hours later. The fact that a man is dead definitely underlines the seriousness of their course of action – which appears to be a case of deception on the part of authorities.

Similarly, right after the event most mainstream media were calling the event a “shoot-out”, even though it was obvious that no shots were fired by vehicle passengers. Granted, such deceptive language by media is nothing new, but it’s still further indication that there was a deliberate attempt to skew the narrative in favor of law enforcement’s official version of events.

UPDATE 1-28-2016 at 11:30PM ET: Due to public pressure and intense speculation about the events of Tuesday evening, and because of the YouTube recording of 18 yr old eye witness Victoria Sharp, the FBI has released the unedited aerial video footage from Tuesday evening’s incident which took place along Highway 395 here.

According to the official FBI statement: “We feel that it is necessary to show the whole thing unedited in the interest of transparency.”

The FBI video entitled, Complete, Unedited Video of Joint FBI and OSP Operation 01/26/2016″, does show the victim Lavoy Finicum exiting the truck awkwardly in at least two feet of snow, and he clearly does not “charge towards” the SWAT team, and his hands are clearly held high above his head as he exits his truck when confronted by a SWAT team, before being shot multiple times by marksmen and falling in the snow. Also, the scale and size of this operation is very evident by the footage, and the apprehension of the protesters was not the result of a mere “traffic stop” as it was wrongly characterized in multiple mainstream media reports.

On its own, this FBI drone footage would appear to support previous government and media claims by CNN, Washington Post and others that the victim was indeed “reaching towards his waistband” which gave federal and state police justification to unleash deadly force. However, it is still not completely clear from this aerial footage whether or not Finicum was holstered (he is said to normally carry a gun on the right hip, but FBI are claiming he had a 9mm gun in his inside left breast pocket), but also whether or not he lowered his arms before, or after he was shot multiple times. For example, if Finicum had his hands in the air and was then was shot in the abdomen first, then any man’s natural reaction would be to then lower his hand(s) and clutch the wound. Additionally, if any shots were fired, even in the vicinity, then confusion could have ensued which might have prompted Finicum to reach for his weapon. Either way, it is impossible to make any such a forensic determination without a corresponding audio track  which would help to determine if any shots were fired before Finicum’s hand(s) could be seen lowering.

WARNING: The following images depict violence and death which some readers may find disturbing. Watch:

Finicum was known to carry a Colt 45 on his right hip, but according to the FBI statement, Finicum is said to have reached toward his left pocket with his right hand. “Finicum did have a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in that pocket,” the FBI stated.

Finicum appears to temporarily lose his balance in the snow at the very moment he looks to be hit by agents.

What is clear however from this video is that armed agents did not shoot to disable their suspect, but shot to kill and even had a laser sight trained on him for many minutes after he was downed. Clearly, multiple SWAT shooters could be seen emerging from the woods. After killing Finicum, police then left the victim to bleed to death laying in the snow, and did not check on him for at least another 8 minutes.

Flash-bang rounds can be seen around the 14:00 mark of the FBI’s ‘unedited’ version, and the FBI has said that it fired CS gas and ‘non lethal rounds’ (possibly pepper spray rounds, or rubber bullets) are said to have been fired at the truck while the passengers were inside. This begs the question: with nonlethal rounds already in play – why did multiple SWAT shooters use so many deadly rounds against Finicum when he exited the truck with his hands up?

See 21WIRE’s detailed report of the federal ambush on Highway 395 in Oregon here.

READ MORE OREGON STANDOFF  NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Oregon Files



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