KANAB, Utah (AP) — Sympathizers of the Oregon armed standoff rolled into this desert town Friday in pickup trucks flying American flags, ready to mourn an Arizona rancher and occupation spokesman who was killed last week in a confrontation with authorities.
The trucks filled the parking lot of a Mormon church where a viewing ceremony preceded the funeral for Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. One vehicle had a flyer with a picture of Finicum and the words, “Murdered by the FBI,” while another was scrawled with one of the rancher’s favorite sayings: “By dang, I’m mad.”
His death has become a symbol for those decrying federal oversight, on public lands in the West and elsewhere, and has led to protests of what they call an unjustified use of force by the FBI and Oregon State Police. But authorities say the 54-year-old was reaching for a gun during a confrontation on a remote road.
The FBI released video of the Jan. 26 shooting during a traffic stop that showed Finicum’s hand reaching into his jacket, but supporters dispute he was going for a weapon.
“He’s a hero to me, honest. His heart is for everybody,” said former occupier Ben Matthews of Port Huron, Michigan, who came to Kanab to pay his respects.
Finicum’s daughter Thara Tenney and her brother stood outside the church before the funeral. She said she wasn’t sure what lies ahead.
“I know he was where he needed to be,” Tenney said. “He was doing what he needed to do. Knowing he was a God-fearing man, and his heart was where it needed to be, I feel peace.”
Finicum’s brother, Guy Finicum, recalled the rancher as full of life.
“Bravest person I ever knew,” he said.
The day’s events in this town just north of the Arizona border were billed as “LaVoy Finicum’s Stand for Freedom.” After the funeral, organizers have planned a memorial horse ride to a local middle school for a benefit concert.
Sheriff’s officials and the Utah Highway Patrol were on hand to ensure the events were peaceful. Given the anti-government sentiment expected among the crowd, local law enforcement agencies pleaded with the FBI and other federal agents to stay away.
Family and friends wore red, white and blue ribbons featuring Finicum’s picture and pieces of blue tarp pinned to their shirts. Finicum had been called “the tarp man” after spending a night under a tarp at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge when he feared an imminent raid by officials.
The ceremonies came as four people continued to occupy the federal property in southeastern Oregon. Most of the compound emptied out after the traffic stop that led to Finicum’s death and the arrest of the group’s most prominent figures, including Ammon Bundy.
The holdouts want assurances they won’t be arrested if they leave. That’s unlikely after they were indicted this week along with 12 other defendants, including Bundy.
The standoff began Jan. 2, with the group demanding the government change federal land policies and free two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires. The government says the group brandished firearms to keep officials from carrying out their duties, threatened violence and intimidated locals.
Defense attorneys have said their clients engaged in civil disobedience and are being punished for political speech. They say the only use of force during the standoff was by police who shot Finicum.
Of the 16 charged with felony conspiracy, only three have been allowed to leave jail ahead of trial. They include Shawna Cox, who was in Finicum’s truck when he was shot.
Just hours before the funeral, a federal judge in Portland allowed Cox to attend the ceremony in her hometown but ordered her not to discuss the standoff.
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