Video of militant’s death fails to quell claims of martyrdom

By Emily Yehle | 01/29/2016 01:22 PM EST

The man in the video emerges from his truck into knee-deep snow, hands in the air as he approaches police officers who have their guns at the ready.

Then he reaches toward his belt. Police shoot, and LaVoy Finicum falls to the ground, his body lying in the snow for 10 minutes as police secure the surrender of the truck’s remaining occupants.

The FBI released the aerial footage yesterday to combat claims of martyrdom made by the militants who took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge occupants and their supporters asserted that police shot the 55-year-old Finicum after he had surrendered.


The video’s release was an unusual move, and its full effect on public opinion remains to be seen.

But supporters of the Malheur occupation are already circulating the video with their own narrative of what it shows.

The "Bundy Ranch" Facebook page — associated with Cliven Bundy, the father of occupier Ammon Bundy — posted a clip of the FBI video that has more than 26,000 shares.

"AMBUSH! LaVoy was murdered in cold blood with his hands up; just as Ammon said. They did not even tend to him until 10 minutes later," the post reads above the video. "Our hearts are breaking; we will never forget. We will stand peaceful and principled to restore liberty."

Finicum was a prominent player in the Ammon and Ryan Bundy-led occupation of the refuge. Just four militants remain at the refuge currently, with law enforcement monitoring checkpoints.

Experts have warned that Finicum’s death could galvanize extremist groups that oppose federal land ownership (Greenwire, Jan. 28). In the hours after the shooting, he was hailed as a martyr, with tributes spreading across social media.

Now those circles are posting the FBI video, with varying assertions on what it shows. While police say Finicum reached toward his jacket pocket, where there was a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, supporters see a man clutching a wound. Others scoured the grainy video to support claims of a gunshot to the window as Finicum swerved to avoid the police roadblock.

Video clip
A video released by the FBI shows the encounter when police shot LaVoy Finicum in Oregon. Click here to watch the video.

But yesterday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing said the video shows that law enforcement acted with "great restraint."

"We did everything we could to bring this situation to a peaceful resolution," he told a room full of reporters and residents while narrating the video.

The entire incident lasted 25 minutes. The video shows Finicum driving away from police after an initial stop and then meeting the police roadblock where he was ultimately shot.

Members of Congress stayed mostly silent on the video. But asked for comment, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he supported the video’s release. A spokesman said the transparency allows the public to view the events and judge for themselves.

"The FBI’s decision to promptly release this video to the public was the right move," Wyden said in an email.

Before the FBI released the video, Ammon Bundy said he was "anxious" to see it and that "questions must be answered."

"We only had guns for our protection and never once pointed them at another individual or had any desire to do so," Bundy said in a statement delivered yesterday outside a federal courthouse in Portland by his attorney Lissa Casey. "The people have a right to bear arms for their own protection. We never wanted bloodshed. We verbalized this many, many times and we continue to do so."

His father, Cliven Bundy, later told 8 News NOW — a Las Vegas news station — that he believes Finicum was already shot and reaching for a wound when he put his hands down.

"They’re going to kill my sons one way or the other if something don’t happen here," Cliven said, according to the station. "LaVoy Finicum was executed, and I believe my sons are political prisoners."