PROVO — Week after week, as the standoff in rural Oregon unfolded and reporters swirled around the federal wildlife refuge where his father was sequestered, Robert Finicum remained quiet.
But grief — then outrage — struck Thursday, when Finicum's father was shot and killed by police in a traffic stop.
On Monday, speaking from his apartment in Provo, Finicum defended his father as a "peaceful man" and said his death was "grossly wrong."
Easily recognized by his cowboy hat and tanned skin, LaVoy Finicum, 54, was the de facto spokesman for the group of armed protestors who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest government overreach in land use in early January.
The Arizona rancher and father of 11 read voraciously, loved his family and passionately believed that federal land should be returned to local control, according to his son, an analyst with the Utah National Guard.
"We'd go and visit him and he'd talk ad nauseam about our rights and our freedoms," said Robert Finicum, 30.
LaVoy Finicum was killed Jan. 26 as he and several other occupiers were driving to a community meeting in the nearby town of John Day.
Surveillance video released by the FBI shows LaVoy Finicum's truck speeding away from police, than slamming into a snowbank to avoid a police roadblock.
Surrounded by law enforcement, LaVoy Finicum gets out of the car with his hands up, wading unevenly through deep snow, before reaching his hand toward his abdomen once, then twice.
The video then shows LaVoy Finicum falling down, apparently shot.
He had a loaded weapon in his pocket, police later confirmed.
Robert Finicum said he believes people will "see what they want to see" in the video.
He's convinced his father stepped out of the truck to protect the other passengers inside. He also repeated the accounts of two occupiers who were in the truck — Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, and Victoria Sharp, 18, from Kansas. Both said police were shooting at them before they plowed into the snowbank.
In an interview with a blogger released Sunday, Cox said police fired "hundreds" of rounds into the car, "like riddling a tin can."
In contrast, Greg Bretzing, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Oregon office, said in a news conference Jan. 28 that the number of shots fired was "in the single digits."
Robert Finicum questioned why no audio, bodycam or dashcam footage has been released, if it exists.
He said he believes his father was likely reaching for a wound on his chest — not his firearm — when Oregon state police shot him.
"He gets out of the truck, distances himself, his hands are in the air. There is no reason he would try to deceive and pull a fast one and draw a weapon out. That's foolish and that's just not his personality," Robert Finicum said, adding that his father "was never a deceptive man."
LaVoy Finicum famously spent one frigid night sitting outside the lodge under a blue tarp after finding out the FBI had supposedly issued a warrant for his arrest. He told the Washington Post he didn't want agents to "have to run around in the dark, kicking in doors, having to look for me."
LaVoy Finicum wanted the Bureau of Land Management to transfer the land it owns to local and state government, according to his son.
But his father was not a militant and did not have a death wish, he said.
"He was armed. He believed it was his right to bear arms, but he was never militant," Robert Finicum said. "He was a peaceful man."
Robert Finicum said he never shared his father's level of passion for land rights. He remains conflicted about his father's decision to seize a federal building, particulary given The Church of Jesus Church of Latter-day Saints' strong opposition to the occupation.
"This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis," the church said in its statement. "We are privileged to live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can — and should — be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land."
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the organizers of the protest, are Mormon. LaVoy Finicum, too, was Mormon, according to his son.
"When the church made that statement, it did stop my dad dead in his tracks and it was hard for him to reconcile what he felt he should be doing," Robert Finicum said.
He added that his father was seriously considering reaching out to the church but ultimately decided against it.
Robert Finicum said he wishes his father had gone through legal channels instead, but he defended his father's actions as an act of civil disobedience, like the Boston Tea Party.
Still, he wonders if death was too high a price to pay. As he talked about the video of his father's death, Robert Finicum's voice wavered.
"I want to say yes (that the occupation was successful)," he said. "I would hate for his death to be in vain."
The arrest of the protest’s leaders and the death of LaVoy Finicum seemed to take much of the air out of the occupation.
Just four holdouts remain in the wildlife refuge, according to reports.
Ammon Bundy and 10 others are charged with conspiracy to impede officers of the U.S. from discharging their official duties through use of force, intimidation or threats.
A judge released Cox and another defendant Friday. The judge denied release for Bundy.
In a statement from Bundy while in custody, he pleaded for those remaining to turn themselves in peacefully.
Robert Finicum, too, said he hopes they go home.
"There's nothing more that can be done that hasn't been done in this case," Finicum said. "It is time to go home."
He said he hopes the message that his father was trying to make will echo in Utah, where lawmakers are weighing a lawsuit against the federal government over control of public lands.
"Everybody makes mistakes. But that's my opinion. Other people do not believe that was a mistake," Finicum said, referring to the Oregon occupation. "That's a conversation that my dad will have with God, sooner than he probably expected."
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