BEND, Oregon – Two Arizona men involved in the standoff at Oregon's Malheur National Wildife Refuge claim the Arizona state government has, under pressure from the federal government, taken their children as a form of retribution.
Blaine Cooper and Robert "LaVoy" Finicum are part of the self-styled militia that has been occupying the refuge and its buildings since Jan. 2. The group is there to oppose federal land-management policies and wants the release of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers convicted of arson who returned to prison last week to serve longer sentences.
Finicum, formerly of Paulden, Arizona, owns a ranch in Mohave County southeast of Colorado City, and claims his four foster children were taken earlier this month because he's protesting the federal government's actions.
"It came down from the governor's office," he said, "I believe it was the federal government (that) put pressure on the governor's office."
"That is absolutely false," Gov. Doug Ducey's spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said Monday. "The governor does not play a role in foster care placement decisions. Those decisions are left to professionals at DCS, and they are made based on the best interests of children.
"Finicum and his wife, Jeanette, are "a professional service," licensed by Catholic Charities, and use the ranch to help reintegrate boys into society.
"We've done it for more than a dozen years," he said, "and we've been very successful in working with these troubled boys."
Jeanette is still at home with the couple's 17-year-old daughter, and was caring for all five kids until the Department of Children's Services removed the boys.
Blaine Cooper, who lives in Humboldt, Arizona, said that the state Department of Child Services removed his two girls "without due process of law," did not serve him, or his wife, Melissa, with paperwork, "nor did they even call us."
Blaine said the girls were left in "trusted care," but that they were moved and it took several calls to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office and Chino Valley police to locate them.
The girls were in the custody of Melissa's brother, Chris Trinka, Sunday night, Jan. 17, when Trinka said, Melissa showed up at his house in Chino Valley with militia members and took the children.
"I was not going to do anything stupid to where the girls were going to get hurt or I would get hurt," Trinka said.
Randy Cooper, Blaine's step-father, said he believed Blaine wanted the children to be "shields so the FBI won't shoot them," a claim Blaine denies.
"They were going to come and visit me but that was going to be away from the location of where the dispute is," Blaine said Monday, adding that the children are now with family in Missouri.
Randy said a hearing with DCS was set for Tuesday, Jan. 19, "to figure out what they were going to do about it," but he didn't know how that might be affected now.
The Hammonds' case set off the wildlife refuge occupation, but they have distanced themselves from the activists.
Federal, state and local law enforcement are monitoring the occupation but have not taken action. Cement barriers have been erected to block streets around the county courthouse in the small eastern Oregon town of Burns, where police from around the state have set up a command center.
Cooper and Finicum are among the most prominent of the occupiers; Cooper is heavily into social media, including video, and Finicum is the spokesman for the group.
Cooper said the occupation is "peaceful" and that he was not armed.
"The whole community has told us not to leave now and things are looking great," he said.
Finicum said the refuge site was quiet, and that people could come and go as they please.
He said the protests have been having the desired effect.
"It's a wonderful thing - the ranchers standing up, the loggers standing up - we're working with all these people here so they can have back access" to federal lands.
"We are here to uphold the federal government in its proper role, and uphold the states and the counties in their proper role," Finicum continued. "Anybody who puts out that we're anti-government is pretty ignorant."
Finicum told The Associated Press that the group was hoping to hold a community meeting to explain what it hopes to accomplish.
They have said they won't leave until the ranchers jailed for arson are freed and the refuge is turned over to local control.
Cooper, who has been the subject of criticism in the news media said, "I will admit that I do have a bad past," referring to arrests for domestic violence. "But I did serve my time, and have been on the straight and narrow ever since," he continued.
"How long must a person's past haunt them?"
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Follow Scott Orr on Twitter @AZNewsguy. Call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2038 or 928-642-7705.
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