KANAB, Utah, Feb. 5, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) ─ Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was murdered by the FBI – so say hundreds of people who attended his funeral service, and they say they will never forget him.
Such were the emotions Friday in Southern Utah, where more than a thousand people gathered in memory of the Kanab-born rancher who was shot to death Jan. 26 in a confrontation with FBI agents and Oregon State Police.
Crowds began arriving early to the tiny tourist town along the Arizona strip. A steady stream of mourners ─ many of them militia members ─ gathered at a local stake center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to pay their final respects.
Finicum, 54, was well known and beloved by many in the Kanab area.
“He was the kindest, most gentle man I know,” said one mourner, who refused to give his name, saying he feared government retribution. “When I heard the news, I cried.”
That sentiment was echoed again and again Friday, especially by Finicum’s children, each of whom spoke to the somber crowd that packed the small-town chapel to capacity.
Finicum’s children remembered their father as a deeply religious man, dedicated to his family, his country, and his fellow ranchers.
“He was always there for what’s right,” said one of his daughters, fighting back tears. “He was so brave. When push came to shove, he was still brave. Now he is really a hero.”
Outside the chapel, the sadness over Finicum’s death was mixed with anger and suspicion. Groups of stern-faced militia men guarded the entrances to the stake center’s parking lot while others provided security details inside the chapel.
Some distributed fliers bearing a photo of Finicum, with the caption, “Murdered By The FBI,” as local law enforcement officers looked on.
Many militia members traveled from out of state to attend the service, driving from as far away as Montana. Among them was Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose clash with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights briefly led to an armed standoff with federal authorities in 2014.
It was then that Finicum joined forces with the Bundy family, and ultimately became a spokesman for militia group, Citizens for Constitutional Freedoms, the same group that occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
At the time of the January refuge takeover, the group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, Cliven’s son, said the action was a show of support for fellow ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr., 70, and son, Steven Hammond, 46.
The Hammonds had been convicted of arson in 2012 for setting fire to federal land, and had just been ordered back to prison after a judge ruled their initial sentences were too lenient and failed to meet federal sentencing guidelines.
Finicum was a spokesman for – and occupier of – the refuge back on Jan. 26, when he and a group of others left the grounds for a meeting in the nearby town of John Day. It was during that trek that law enforcement agencies stopped the two vehicle caravan which led to Finicum’s shooting.
After fleeing the initial traffic stop, Finicum swerved into a snowbank to avoid a clandestine road block which stretched across Highway 385. He leapt from his vehicle with his hands in the air, but was shot to death moments later when officers believed he was reaching for a gun.
Militia group supporters say the action by law enforcement agencies was nothing short of an ambush. The FBI released surveillance video showing Finicum reaching for his waist before being shot. Authorities say they found a 9 mm pistol in Finicum’s pocket, and that the shooting was justified.
Also traveling in the caravan that night was Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan. Since then, the Bundy brothers and 15 others have been charged with conspiracy by the federal government.
Friday afternoon in Kanab, immediately after Finicum’s funeral service, dozens of mourners took to horseback in a final farewell to the fallen rancher.
Clad in traditional western garb of cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hats, they followed the hearse that carried Finicum’s simple wood coffin to the family’s ranch for burial.
Moments later, two of Finicum’s daughters, Belle Collier and Thara Tenney, addressed the media, and compared their father’s actions to those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even Joan of Arc.
Collier and Tenney said the FBI intentionally murdered their father, and the two accused the press of providing a “false narrative” about Finicum’s actions in the Oregon standoff.
“We don’t want the FBI’s bias. We don’t want the media’s bias. We want the truth,” Tenney said.
“Going forward, we are calling for a private, independent, investigation to find out exactly what happened to our dad in an ambush at a lonely, desolate stretch of highway, in the dead of winter, in eastern Oregon.”
Collier asked listeners to give Finicum’s story some thought.
“Whether or not you believe that our father did the right thing, we step forward to publicly ask: who are we as Americans?” she said.
“Who are we as human beings? Do we now believe that mere words justify the use of deadly force? Do we believe that peaceful actions justify the use of deadly force? Do we believe that two hands up in surrender justified the use of deadly force?,” Collier asked.
“And do we believe that following the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution justifies the use of deadly force? If we do, then where is liberty?”
To see a video of the Finicum family’s entire statement to the press, please click on the video player above.