In a shootout in the US state of Oregon yesterday evening (Jan. 26), the FBI confronted members a militant group that since early this month has occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Authorities took eight people into custody after the shootout, including group leader Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan, who was shot in the arm.
One man, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was killed in the exchange. Finicum, 55, was a rancher, foster parent, and frequent spokesperson for the militant group, according to Oregon Live.
Finicum was prominent in the early days of the occupation, giving reporters the first tours of the occupied grounds. Doing a series of interviews one cold evening with a blue tarp over his head (and a gun on his lap) earned him the nickname “tarp man.”
As a rancher in northern Arizona, Finicum had a permit to graze cattle during certain months on land administered mainly by US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). He ran into trouble with the agency after he was found grazing his cattle on the land outside the authorized period, which is restricted to give the land time to recover.
Meanwhile Finicum felt inspired by the militant group, who some believe should be labeled domestic terrorists. Bundy and his followers argue that the US government has illegally taken federal lands around the West from ranchers and private landholders. They demand the return of such lands to local control. (Native Americans have their own take on who should own the land.)
Finicum joined Bundy in a 2014 standoff against the BLM. “After that incident, I had to do a lot of soul-searching,” Finicum told St. George News in Utah. “I realized that Cliven Bundy was standing on a very strong constitutional principle—and yet, here I was continuing to pay a grazing fee to the BLM.”
Although he’d had a decent relationship with the BLM for many years, Finicum decided to—like Bundy—stop paying the grazing permit fees, in protest.
Despite his identity as a rancher, Finicum and his wife Jeanette earned their “main source of income” as foster parents with Catholic Charities Community Services, according to an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting. In January he told the broadcaster that more than 50 boys—including from mental hospitals and drug rehab programs—had stayed at his family ranch in Arizona over the past decade.
“My ranch has been a great tool for these boys,” Finicum told the broadcaster. “It has done a lot of good.”
Shortly after the militant group’s occupation of the wildlife reserve began in early January, a social worker removed the last of the foster children from the ranch.
Cliven Bundy—father of group leader Ammon—said to the Los Angeles Times of Finicum’s death, “Now we’ve got one killed, and all I can say is, he’s sacrificed for a good purpose.”