There are still deep ruts in the snow where LaVoy Finicum’s truck careened off the road. There are footprints into the nearby forest. And most of the time, there are flags, a cross and flowers.
It’s become a gathering place for angry supporters of the right-wing militia movement. Lucas Lynch drove nine hours overnight from Tacoma, Washington, with a few friends to see the roadside memorial for Finicum. Based on the FBI video and other accounts, Lynch said he feels he can recreate the scene.
“[Finicum] made it, maybe a total of twenty feet — you can’t be sure which footprints are his,” Lynch said while looking at footprints and reddish-brown smudges in the snow, which he claimed were blood.
Accounts of what happened to Finicum differ. This much is clear: he was driving one of two vehicles north to John Day, when they were confronted by law enforcement on Highway 395. Some eyewitnesses have made public statements, some of which conflict with police accounts. There’s a video the FBI released, but it’s from overhead and isn’t always clear.
At Finicum’s funeral on Friday in Kanab, Utah, one of his daughters called for a private investigation into the killing of her father.
Some are calling LaVoy Finicum a martyr in a battle that is far from over. Others argue he wasn’t cooperating with police directions.
The memorial of flowers and flags was stripped to a bare wooden pole sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning. It’s not clear who did it. Spokespersons with the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Transportation said neither agency played a role in the destruction, according to the Associated Press. Dozens of locals and visitors showed up Saturday afternoon to restore the memorial.
When it came time to make statements, the event turned from remembrance and rebuilding to a political protest.
Standing next to a cross, festooned with red, white and blue, Pacific Patriots Network co-founder B.J. Soper called on the gathered crowd to continue the militants’ work.
“LaVoy’s time ended right here, his message stopped right here,” Soper said. “And I think it’s our duty and ability to continue it down this road — and that road and that road,” Soper said pointing around the forest, as the gathered crowd cheered.
“They think they’ve stopped us by using force. I think they’ve started it! I think they just opened a can of worms!” yelled militia supporter, Kevin Fieguth, of Josephine County.
But there are signs the Pacific Patriots Network is far from rallying an army.
The Network tried to rally hundreds of militia supporters to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to help the four remaining militants escape. But by Friday, the group’s web site issued a “stand down” order, directing them to gather at the roadside memorial, instead.
Not everyone at the memorial supported the refuge occupation. Tom Wagner said he traveled two hours from Christmas Valley with his family to show his respects to Finicum. Wagner said he met Finicum and other members of the occupation when he visited the refuge, a few weeks ago.
“I was at the refuge for a day,” Wagner said. “I went there, and the atmosphere there and I fully respect the things that they’re fighting for. The way they went about doing it wasn’t for me, so I left after a day.”
Still others came to the memorial less out of politics than sympathy for a person who died in the area.
Julie Perkins drove south from Dayville, when her daughter told her the flags and flowers were gone.
“My daughter went to a basketball game today in Crane, and she texted me from Burns, and they were disappointed that everything had been removed,” Perkins said. “She’s 14. She was disappointed and confused.”
She added, “I think that regardless of what a person’s views are, a person did lose their life here. Whether a person’s opinion is justified or not, respect should be given.”
Other eastern Oregonians were likewise focused on rebuilding the memorial “bigger and better” as Burns resident Joshawa Boerem put it.
“There’s so many more people here today than there was yesterday,” Boerem added.
Boerem was one of several men who hoisted a wooden cross 20 feet up a pine tree, where they nailed it to the trunk with two long nails.
They said it would make for a more lasting memorial.
It’s the hope of the Patriots Network that the ideology behind Finicum’s death and the illegal, armed takeover he was part of, will last, too.
But the organizers and leaders didn’t ask anyone to take up arms against the government, or seize a federal building, as Ammon Bundy and his followers did, 50 miles south of the memorial site.
Sam Hill with the III-Percent Defenders of Liberty told the gathering to work within the democratic process.
“We need to bring this all together. Whatever counties you guys are from, go there, and say ‘we have a problem,’” Hill said.
Hill is from Yamhill County, Oregon. He said he got a receptive ear from his county commissioners.
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OPB | Feb. 22, 2017