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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: February 11, 2016

Southern Utah News Front Page Photo

LaVoy Finicum laid to rest

LaVoy Finicum’s father (r) leads the funeral procession in the ”empty saddle” formation. Photo by Jayme Jorgensen.

By Mark Havnes

Special to the SUN

It was a somber day in Kanab last Friday for the funeral of Cane Beds resident  Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. The services were conducted under a clear blue sky at the Mormon church’s Kaibab Stake Center. It was attended by about 1000 mourners who packed the chapel hall, with the overflow crowding the hallways.

Finicum, whose desire for freedom from what he and others believed was a tyrannical stranglehold on the rights of Americans by the federal government concerning public land issues, compelled him and other armed individuals to occupy a structure on the Malhauer National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oregon on January 2, 2016.

Among members of the militant group were sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who defied Bureau of Land Management officials in April 2014, when they claimed Bundy had violated the law by not paying fees for his cattle grazing allotments in southern Nevada.

Finicum, who operated a ranch in Arizona near the Utah state line, was shot and killed by law enforcement on January 26, a day before his 55th birthday. He had fled police and a roadblock set up on an Oregon highway in an attempt to arrest him and others charged with preventing government authorities from fulfilling their duties related to the occupation of the national refuge.

One of those in the car with Finicum who was arrested and charged was Kanab resident Shawna Cox.

Authorities said Finicum, wading in waist-deep snow, was going for a weapon when he was fired upon and killed. Although authorities said Finicum was armed with a Glock 9mm pistol, his family said in his obituary that he was “murdered,” a common sentiment expressed by sympathizers attending the funeral.

During Friday’s funeral service, Finicum’s brother Jody recalled the “ultra competitive” nature of his slain brother, saying he would make a competition out of any challenge, and that it was to be expected he would change the rules of any game to his advantage.

Another incentive to ignite his competitive spirit was to tell him he could not do something. Jody Finicum emphasized the point with antecdotes, including how he failed to clear the 20-foot width of a canal once in an attempt to retrieve an errant tennis ball, even though a bridge was in place downstream. But he succeeded, though drenched, in getting the ball. Another time, the brother said he rode his horse Shorty through the family home, even though he was advised against it.

His brother said that it was fair to say LaVoy held to the philosophy of the father of evolutionary science, Charles Darwin.

“If you want to survive, you must adapt,” he told the mourners.

His wife, Jeanette, and 11 children he leaves behind, shared their thoughts, describing their father as a compassionate, loving patriot with deep beliefs in God, country and family. In addition to caring for his own family, his obituary stated how he used natural teaching skills to guide foster children on how to live exemplary lives.

Younger brother Guy Finicum recalled his brother’s deep commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spoke of the blessings and challenges of possessing free will, recounting how Lucifer was cast out of heaven due to his pride.

Guy Finicum said it was up to us to accept the challenge of choosing to follow the divine teachings of Jesus Christ or succumb to what is evil in the world generated by the fallen angel and his minions.

“He [LaVoy] loved to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the brother said. Guy Finicum said LaVoy’s children have a lot to live up to.

In the lobby of the stake center were items that exhibited icons of the ranching life, including a pair of cowboy boots, saddle and cowboy hat.

After the funeral, two of LaVoy’s daughters, Thara Tenney and Belle Coulier, spoke about the death of their father to members of the assembled news media. They reiterated the passion they believed their father had for the freedoms of Americans as outlined in the Constitution, and how unfairly his actions have been portrayed by reporters.

The women compared their father’s actions to historical icons, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Cicero, Joan of Arc and Sir Thomas Moore, all who are admired today, but ridiculed for their beliefs expressed when they were alive.

The women stressed their belief that their father was killed unjustly by police and called for an independent investigation into his shooting death that some sympathizers in the crowd yelled out was “murder.”

With LaVoy Finicum’s casket loaded in a hearse, it was escorted through the streets in Kanab to a mortuary, led by a memorial of at least 60 horses, whose riders assembled at the stake center in a sign of solidarity for the slain rancher and his cause.

On Friday night, activities surrounding the funeral shifted to the Kanab Middle School, where a self-described patriotic American and guitar strumming singer Jordan Page, from northwestern Montana, gave a concert to a crowd of more than 100, singing a medley of songs strong with lyrics of freedom, the Lord, and halleluahs.

The lyrics of one song Page claimed came to him through the holy spirit the night LaVoy Finicum was slain.

“There was something in the room feeding my spirit with lyrics that I worked all night on,” Page said. His initial response to the news LaVoy had died filled him with anger and rage, before a feeling of calm settled on him and the words started to flow. Many clapped and sang along with Page during his performance. 

Also performing at the school event were Finicum’s daughters, pressing the message of freedom. 

John Pratt, who traveled to Oregon with one of LaVoy’s brothers, challenged the concert goers to donate $100 apiece to help the Finicum family. In less than two minutes, he got commitments from the crowd for $1,000.

Kane School District Superintendent Robert Johnson said requests to use the school for events are granted to nonprofit groups. He said it is required that all any group wanting to use a school facility needed to do was fill out a form stating the nature of their activity and put down a $100 refundable deposit.

He said last year the Utah Legislature mandated schools be made available for such events requested by nonprofit groups if the date does not conflict with scheduled school events.

Before the funeral on Friday as sympathizers gathered outside the stake center, many with firearms strapped on, anti-government rhetoric was thick in the air, with some claiming LaVoy was killed by phantom agents working for the United Nations, that President Barrack Obama will manufacture a situation allowing him to declare martial law in the country so he can cancel the General Election, and that on the first day of law school in universities across the country, professors hold up a copy of the Constitution they condemn before throwing it in a trash can.

Disparaging comments were also made concerning recent actions by black rioters in some American cities and Latinos immigrating to the United States.

Cherilyn Eagar, an associate producer and personality on KTKK, a talk radio station in Salt Lake City, coordinated news media activities for the event. She said she had planned on being in Oregon with the group Finicum was associated with when he was slain. She said the trip was cancelled when an associate she was going to make the trip with became ill. “Or I would have been caught in the crossfire.”

She also said it was her grim duty to inform Thara Tenney, Utah County resident and one of the rancher’s daughters, about her father’s death.

“No words or photographs could explain what I saw,” she said of delivering the sad news. “It was agonizing.”

She said the daughter, after hearing the news, assembled her children in the basement of their house to inform them of their grandfather’s death.

“Tears welled up in their eyes,” said Tenney.

Although it did not receive any threats, the BLM offices in Kanab were closed on Thursday and Friday to avoid any potential conflict.

“Public and employee safety are BLM’s primary concern,” the agency said in a statement.  “Given the events scheduled over the next few days in southern Utah, BLM decided to exercise an abundance of caution and temporarily close our offices in Kanab.”

LaVoy Finicum, who many consider a martyr for the cause he died for, was buried on family property in Arizona.

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