Robert ‘LaVoy’ Finicum died on January 29th, 2016. Father of 11, grandfather of 19, husband for 23 years to wife Jeanette, Lavoy was shot dead at the age of 54. His end was met due, in part, to his deeply held convictions and, in larger part, due to his involvement with the 2016 militia standoff at Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. In the events leading up to his death, Lavoy Finicum revealed himself to be one of the most eloquent, soft spoken, and interesting militants you may ever encounter.
Lavoy first implicated himself in the 2014 Bundy Ranch Standoff in the above video posted to YouTube on April 26th, 2014. He was with Cliven Bundy when a dispute between the rancher and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) turned into national news. Lavoy has since been an outspoken opponent of the BLM and of the bureau’s insistence in charging grazing fees to ranchers on public lands.
Finicum’s religious affiliation is mostly unknown, several sources claim that he is a Mormon but Finicum made no known deliberate proclamation of faith other than his love of God. Finicum’s settling in the largely Mormon area of Colorado City, Arizona (near the Utah border) did, however, place him in direct and regular interaction with the Bundy family and within a socio-political climate rife with Mormon Anti-Federal Government sentiment. Mormons have had a long history of difficulty and conflict with the Federal Government and although the LDS church is in good stead with the federal government, Mormon ranchers such as the Bundy family take such conflicts to both religious and anti-Governmental levels. When the 2014 Bundy Standoff occurred, their neighbor Lavoy Finicum was there. When Cliven Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan, were among the Harney County, Oregon protesters to break with a larger party and take over the Malheur Wildlife Reserve, their neighbor and friend was there then as well.
Though his religion may have been in dispute, Lavoy Finicum’s convictions regarding the U.S. Constitution and his claim that the Bureau of Land Management is an unconstitutional authority acting outside of Constitutional authority. In nearly every video that Lavoy Finicum posted he made his argument, concisely summarized in a blog post written by Finicum on his blog:
WE NEED TO BE EDUCATED ON WHO IS LAWFUL/LEGITIMATE AND WHO IS NOT LAWFUL/LEGITIMATE. AMERICA USED TO BE A LAND WHERE THE “NATURAL RIGHTS” OF MAN WERE HELD INVIOLATE AND THE ONLY LEGITIMATE POWER OF GOVERNMENT WAS TO PROTECT A MAN IN HIS “LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY”.
TO PROTECT THOSE RIGHTS THE FOUNDING FATHERS PUT IN PLACE A CONSTITUTION WHICH FIRST, LIMITED THE POWER OF GOVERNMENT AND SECOND, DIVIDED THOSE POWERS INTO THREE EQUAL BRANCHES. SO WHAT IS IT THAT WE HAVE NOW?
LET ME SPEAK TO THAT WHICH I AM PERSONALLY ACQUAINTED WITH AND INVOLVED IN. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOU WERE TOLD THAT ONE THIRD OF THE LAND MASS OF THE UNITED STATES IS UNDER THE CONTROL OF A BUREAUCRACY THAT HAS ABSOLUTE POWER OVER THAT LAND WITH NO POWER OF RECALL BY THE PEOPLE; A BUREAUCRACY THAT HAS CONSOLIDATED ALL THREE BRANCHES OF POWER UNDER ONE HEAD?
Though Lavoy regularly kept in good stead with the BLM, he did not trust them or respect their authority. In tweets posted months after the Bundy Ranch Standoff, Lavoy made known his distrust for both political parties and the need for ‘something’ to be done.
If the above seemed a vague attempt to connect the man’s ideology with his fate, then the publish of Finicum’s novel, Only By Blood and Suffering, made clear the how and the why in Lavoy’s Western apocalypticism. The Amazon.com page for the book describes the story as:
. . . a family’s struggle to come together and survive in the midst of national crisis. A stirring, fast-paced novel about what matters most in the face of devastating end-times chaos. Filled with gripping action and relatable characters, readers are drawn into the heart-rending dilemmas each member of the Bonham family faces. You may even find yourself stopping to ask, “What would I do?”
Only By Blood and Suffering ends with a bloody gun battle. The similarities to the plot and the author’s inevitable outcome have been noted in various news articles since Finicum’s passing. This, coupled with Finicum’s brief stint as the notorious spokesperson for the Oregon Standoff participants have made him a topic of much discussion.
Tarpman as Finicum came to be known, for obvious reasons, became defacto spokesperson for Oregon ranchers occupying Malheur Wildlife Reserve. Sitting on a rocking chair, holding a rifle and draped in a blue tarp, Lavoy was eloquent in his use evasive language to neither confirm nor deny that he would draw his weapon upon FBI or other law enforcement if provoked. At the time, however, news reporters simply found Lavoy (a.k.a. #tarpman).
The media seized onto ‘tarpman’ and, with it, came Saturday Night Live and the various online stories that promoted Finicum’s fame, whether he wanted it or not. Finicum’s notoriety ended up costing him; reporting days after the ‘tarpman’ story that his four foster children had been removed from his ranch. Finicum would be quoted as saying that his endeavor to foster young people with emotional and/or drug addiction issues was his “main source of income.” In 2009, Catholic Charities paid the Finicum family $115,343 to foster children. It was likely the flagrant disregard for law or law enforcement, as publicly displayed during the standoff on national television, that led to Child Protective Services to remove the remaining foster children.
It seems important to note that Lavoy never specifically endorsed any violence with regard to the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, but instead made reference to his intent to take up arms if weapons should be drawn against him (including by Federal agents).
Transcribed from the MSNBC Live interview:
… I’ve always said, I will never point a gun at someone [who does not] point a gun at me. So if [Federal agents] just go home, and don’t point a gun at me, this is all good …
And if they point a gun at you?
You don’t point a gun at someone unless you’re serious.
What was said, and what was not said, would prove prophetic.
The footage above document the last moments and seconds of Robert ‘Lavoy’ Finicum’s life. In images that will henceforth become the subject of intense discord, Lavoy, presumably driving the white van, swerves to avoid a roadblock set for he and others involved in the standoff. Finicum hits a snow ditch and the image is lost. When the image is regained a few seconds later, Finicum is walking outside of the vehicle with his hands up. While still walking in deep snow, and as law enforcement approach him (at 9:28 in the video), Finicum appears to reach towards his left pocket with his left hand while keeping his right hand up. The law enforcement agent or officer, weapon drawn seems to react to this motion by reading the gun to fire (but based on the distance and lack of sound this video does not confirm such an exchange). At 9:29 in the video, Finicum grabs with both hands at his left abdominal area, potentially signalling that he had been shot or, as others may view the event, that he was reaching for a gun at that point (or wished to be seen as reaching for a gun). As agents in front of Finicum continue to point weapons at him, and as he seems to either be shot repeatedly or intentionally stomping his feet for no apparent reason, another law enforcement agent enters frame from behind and appears to shoot Lavoy Finicum from behind. This shot forces Finicum to the ground, it may have been that the agent saw or thought they saw a gun but no such information could possibly be apparent from the video. A few seconds pass after Finicum drops to the ground, his right hand still in the air, left hand still at his side. As a firefight ensues and muzzle flashes are visible from the helicopter capturing the entire encounter on video, a large tree crosses in the path of the video image, marking the last time Finicum’s body can be seen to move. Lavoy Finicum is dead.
Through no fault of Finicum’s, the various political and anti-Government ideologies that had aligned themselves favorably toward the occupiers of the standoff in Burns, OR began to create a narrative surrounding the firefight and Finicum’s death. Some say that Finicum was ‘ambushed and assassinated‘ and posthumously portray him as a great leader and unifying force among those within the Militia Movement. His mention of experiences growing up on the Navajo Reservation and his conflating Native American tribal issues with his own brand of anti-Federal sentiment led some to even call him ‘progressive‘ (their quotes) even as others make references to Ruby Ridge in analogy to the outcomes of the two standoffs. In death, Lavoy became a modern day martyr with messianic qualities, a Christ for the Militia.
Of course, with any event such as this, the conspiracy theories become ever more extreme and scatter probabilistically to various extremes.
In the aftermath of the encounter with law enforcement and federal agents, Oregon Governor Kate Brown was also implicated, supporters of those ranchers in the Burns, OR standoff blaming her for Finicum’s death, some wanting blood in return.
What all these reactions amount to, of course, was the shock that the events at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge did not go as they had hoped, and the amazement at the arrest of several key members of the standoff, along with the death of Lavoy Finicum. The narrative they had constructed for themselves had been very different and, as such, they were forced to create new narratives to view the events with new enemies and new conspiracies to blame on the failure of their stated goals. Days later, Cliven Bundy would ignore the pleas of his son, Ammon (currently in Federal custody) to publicly support the continued occupation of the wildlife reserve (still in progress at time of this writing). Finicum’s family released a statement denouncing the FBI’s actions, as they were the agency that conducted the operation involving the roadblock that led to the shootout and Lavoy Finicum’s death.
Lavoy Finicum died. His death may have seemed heroic to some, tragic or even shameful to others. The fact remains that as a direct result of his ideological beliefs, namely that any assertion of Federal jurisdiction over land in Western states is illegal and tyrannical. For this, right or wrong, intentionally or not, he gave his life.
The weeks after the death of Lavoy Finicum led to the arrest Ammon’s father, Cliven Bundy and the end of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Standoff.
It is still the position of most (if not all) of the American Militia Movement and Sovereign Citizens that Lavoy was killed in cold blood. The law enforcement involved state that their actions were justified. As a result of the audio/video evidence that has accumulated (none of which were specifically trained on Lavoy at the time), the opinion of those on both sides have seemingly been both justified (in their minds) and negated (by those in opposition).
The following synced videos were posted on the Bundy Ranch Facebook page (affiliation with Bundy Family for the site is presumed but unknown). The video (in the link above) was posted and meant to be shared. View the content, make up your own mind.