JOHN DAY, Ore., Feb. 3, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, spokesman for occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, has been dead for more than a year now. But his beliefs about the dangers of government overreach and the loss of personal liberty live on.
The proof was in the several hundred followers who packed the pavilion last weekend in John Day, Ore., to mark the one-year anniversary of the Arizona rancher’s untimely death, to show support for his family, and to discuss the principles he was fighting for when he died on a snowy roadside in January of 2016.
Billed as “The Meeting That Never Happened,” the emotional event harkened to the planned speaking engagement Finicum and other occupation leaders were trying to attend a year earlier when they were confronted by the Oregon State Police and the FBI.
Finicum was ultimately killed in the encounter — shot in the back by two OSP officers in what investigators ruled was a “justifiable” and “necessary” use of deadly force.
The Finicum family and its supporters have a dramatically different take on what happened that day on the road between Burns and the town of John Day. They say the man they knew as a doting husband, father, brother, son and grandfather, was murdered at the hands of the federal government. They believe his shooting was politically motivated — an assassination — choreographed by the FBI and state and local law enforcement.
But, while Finicum’s death was indeed a topic of conversation at John Day’s Trowbridge Pavilion on Saturday, family members said they chose to focus on what they called an educational meeting — a seminar on the principles of God’s Law and Natural Law and what they believe their relationship is to the U.S. Constitution and American civil liberties.
“Education — that’s what my dad was all about,” said Thara Tenney, Finicum’s oldest daughter. “He was about educating and helping people understand the true principles of liberty.”
Tenney said her father would have been humbled at the turnout in John Day, and that despite the pain caused by his death, his family is dedicated to keeping his message alive.
“We’re pushing through the trauma,” she said. “We support one another and we all have our special role to play.”
Jeanette Finicum, LaVoy’s widow, echoed her daughter’s sentiments.
“He would be humbled. He would be embarrassed for the attention, but he would be thrilled at the idea that people are awakening to learn about the principles of liberty. LaVoy’s murder wasn’t in vain. People are being touched by his spirit, by his videos. His message is resonating with people and they’re being motivated, driven to do more.”
One of the followers who made the trek to John Day was Nevada resident Bill Tarbell. He told Gephardt Daily he was deeply disturbed by Finicum’s shooting and felt the need to mark the occasion, even if it meant driving hundreds of miles.
“There’s an old saying about Christianity,” Tarbell said. “‘The blood of the martyr is the seed of the church.’ It was because people sacrificed their lives that Christianity succeeded. We have to make sure those sacrifices were not in vain. People need to become informed about what’s going on here and elsewhere across the West and then support any move to change the jurisdiction of the lands into private, state and county control.”
Featured speaker J. Morgan Philpot addressed some of the same issues in his speech Saturday night. Philpot, along with attorney Marcus Mumford, led the defense team which successfully represented Ammon Bundy and other defendants during the trial over the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Philpot openly questioned the legitimacy of the federal government’s influence over banking, the health and welfare industry, civics, the arts, recreation and education.
“Where are we sending our kids for eight hours a day, five days a week?” he asked. “To the very government that is incarcerating these men and women, killing them and taking their land. And we wonder why our kids are having a hard time understanding liberty.”
Philpot also discussed his recent attempts to negotiate with the BLM after it cut off grazing access to public lands outside the Finicum family’s ranch, near Cane Beds, Ariz., calling the move illegal.
Another legal issue discussed Saturday night was the Finicum family’s impending wrongful-death lawsuit against the FBI and the state of Oregon. Jeanette Finicum told the crowd the family had filed a notice of administrative claim with the U.S. government, a precursor to the official filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit. The legal maneuvering effectively put the FBI on notice it would be sued along with the state of Oregon.
Carol Bundy, wife of embattled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, also attended the John Day meeting. She said the size of the crowd was overwhelming.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” Bundy said, “because sometimes we feel alone in our fight. I now know that there’s more with us than against us, and today proves that. Today proves that freedom is important to not only people here, but to the thousands who couldn’t make it here today.
“So it’s a matter of taking things one day at a time. You have your good days. You have your bad days. You have your ups and downs, but Cliven says to tell everybody he’s on the fight. Look behind me,” she said smiling. “We got a battle to fight and we’re gonna win.”
To see video from The Meeting That Never Happened, click on the video player above.