The shooting death Tuesday evening of Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, the spokesman for the group that has occupied the Malheur bird refuge in Oregon most of this month, winds up providing some thoughts and lessons, some of them unexpected.
Any shooting death is a tragedy, his included; this was a human being with family and friends entitled the same measure of dignity as any of us. But as Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo noted, it's a special shame when it happened because of his devotion to a cause that is nothing more than bonkers. He did not die in service to a real cause; he died in service to a fake one. We all should deserve better than that.
Marshall pointed out other kinds of lessons too, however: "The thing that struck me most about last night however was something very specific: social media allowed one to watch the mythology of Finicum's martyrdom emerge and congeal in real time. I never participate on Twitter anymore, not since last Spring. But I went on just to watch the stream. And within two hours you went from Bundy's third hand claim that Finicum was shot in cold blood while trying to surrender to this being heard, accepted, validated and become gospel for thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of members of the digital hard right. I cannot help but note that I spent a good deal of time checking the bios of the people who were embracing this hardest. At least half explicitly identifying themselves as Ted Cruz supporters in their Twitter bios."
The weight of evidence seems to say, as at least two witnesses (not from law enforcement) reported, that Finicum, who almost certainly was armed (the occupiers often boasted about how they were always armed and ready for conflict), "charged" the officers, and then was shot. But probably we won't have to rely on guesses or weight of evidence for long. It's hard to imagine that video of the arrest scene wasn't taken, and will make its way online.
When (presuming that) it is, a question: Will actual visual evidence matter to these people, or will it - like any other facts or evidence that doesn't fit in the world view - simply be dismissed as another massive government conspiracy?
Probably, which shows how badly our social media bubbles are serving us.
But social media also had another impact on this story, which in many parts of the media centered on the pranks being played on the occupiers. A massive Facebook group called Snacks for Y'AllQuaeda pranked them with satire (and shipments of dildoes) and turned the attempt by the occupiers to make a serious point into a national laughingstock.
One group participant reflected, "We knew what they were capable of, and how it could end, but we choose to point out the absolute ridiculousness of their beliefs and how their real life actions exposed them as hypocrites of the highest order. A collection of welfare queens, tax cheats, ex-cons, stolen valor poseurs, Sovereign Citizen, Constitutional Grand Jury, arrogant ass-turds. And I think it worked. Others recognized it too, the mainstream everyday folks. And everybody knew it was time for this idiocy in the high desert of Oregon to end."
Social media cutting in various directions. - rs