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Militants In Oregon Occupation Ask Supporters To Join The Cause


It is not clear how many people still occupy a wildlife refuge in Oregon. Three men turned themselves in at an FBI checkpoint yesterday, bringing the total number of people in custody to 11. During arrests on Tuesday, one of the militants was killed. Officials have not come out yet with details on how he died. We're joined on the line now by Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups here in the United States. Good morning.

MARK POTOK: Good Morning. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Yeah and - thank you. You're welcome. Some protesters have left the wildlife refuge, but a live stream from the group still inside is asking supporters to come fight with them. Do they seem to be getting new recruits?

POTOK: No. We haven't seen any evidence that they're getting new recruits, but they are making some very tough calls. They're saying, you know - come help us; if they stop you from getting here, kill them - those kinds of statements. You know, an interesting aspect of this is that actually a number of the groups that have supported this occupation, like the Three Percenters and the so-called Oath Keepers, have actually urged people to essentially - to stand down, not to go there. But meanwhile, we hear quite a lot of cries from various groups and individuals - the civil war has begun, that kind of thing.

MONTAGNE: Well the man who was killed, LaVoy Finnucum his name was, he was well-known in the self-styled patriot movement. What has been the reaction to his death?

POTOK: Well, there is already a fairly full-blown conspiracy theory saying - or claiming that he was shot to death while his hands were up. We've had conflicting witness reports. One person essentially told a story to that effect. Another one said that wasn't true at all, that what he did was jump out of his car and charge police after he was pulled over - or rather got stuck in the snow fleeing from them, so we don't know.

MONTAGNE: Well, but both of those, though, make him some kind of a hero if you're talking about what's on social media.

POTOK: That's true. That's true. It's quite strong out there. We've got, for instance, Alex Jones, probably the leading conspiracy theorist in America making the claim, you know, simply put, that he was murdered. So yes, I think that idea is spreading and spreading fast, so let's hope that the officials clarify what actually happened. Maybe they can put a stop to this.

MONTAGNE: Now, you have been tracking those groups for years out there. Are there numbers rising or falling?

POTOK: They have been rising. The fact is, is that we've had an enormous expansion in these kinds of groups since Barack Obama came into office in early 2009. The radical right, in general, swelled, really quite incredibly in the three or four years after that. The numbers were not quite at their peak as they were in about 2012, but they're very high. We have more of these kinds of groups, in fact, than we did in the 1990s when there was so press about this movement. And of course, ultimately, culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

POTOK: A pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Mark Potok is with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups in the U.S. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.