Hundreds of people from around the American West came to John Day Saturday evening to attend a meeting held in honor of LaVoy Finicum.
Finicum was shot by Oregon State Police during a traffic stop when many of the leaders of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — including Ammon and Ryan Bundy — were arrested.
Framed pictures of LaVoy Finicum were auctioned, and T-shirts with the Finicum ranch brand were sold at the event.
Finicum’s widow, Jeanette Finicum, organized the event, calling it “The Meeting With LaVoy Finicum That Never Happened In Oregon.” Finicum and the Bundys had been on their way John Day to give a speech about their ideals when they were stopped by law enforcement.
Speakers at the event inveighed against many American institutions, including the media, the justice system, public schools, the federal government and politicians. Attendees said they came for information that they said they couldn’t find elsewhere.
Jeanette Finicum laid out her hope before the event began.
“What I hope is that these speakers tonight will inspire the individuals that are here to be actively engaged in their own communities,” she said. She explained she wanted people “to get actively engaged in their civic duty — school boards, city councils, to get involved in the process.”
Jason Patrick — one of the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — came to the meeting. He was happy to see the turnout but said the Bundys’ message wasn’t really being conveyed.
The Bundys, he said, wanted “to talk about ranching rights and grazing rights and grazing allotments and land management and who the actual managers of land are.” Patrick said this event was about liberty more broadly.
He was unsure who would take up the message of the occupation, without the two main leaders — Ammon Bundy and LaVoy Finicum.
“One’s dead, the other’s locked in a cage,” he said of Finicum and Bundy, who is in custody in Nevada on charges stemming from a 2014 standoff with federal agents near their father’s ranch.
The crowd was energized by the not guilty verdicts delivered in the fall trial.
Many in the crowd expressed excitement about President Donald Trump, wishing he would pardon the Hammond family and advocate for the transfer of federal land to local control.
Grant County resident Tad Houpt expressed optimism for the new administration.
“There’s going to be big changes,” he said. “You see all these communists and stuff protesting in the streets of our cities. They’re scared because they’re going to quit getting stuff for free from everybody else.”
Houpt had invited the Bundys and Finicum to John Day for the original event last year. He was involved with Jeanette Finicum in organizing the event Saturday. He said they had sold over 700 tickets to the event.
Several of the defendants from last fall’s trial were in the audience, including Shawna Cox, Neil Wampler, Kenneth Medenbach and Jeff Banta.
Wampler reflected on his months since the trial ended.
“I’ve been glad enough to just go home and have the quiet life,” he said. “I’m retired. I’ve been doing a lot of correspondence. I’ve been being on the web and taking the dog out and little things like that.”
The event covered similar issues that have outraged many Americans in the past week, although no direct ties were made.
Speaker Kris Anne Hall spent over an hour discussing a state’s right to reject federal law but made no reference to the battle between the Trump administration and so-called sanctuary cities and states.
Many speakers discussed the federal government overstepping the limits of the Constitution. But no one addressed the reports unfolding during the event that multiple federal court judges had barred part of President Trump’s order to deport refugees and visa holders at American airports.
Greg Burns, a Grant County resident, said he came to the event to get information, but he wasn’t a supporter of the original occupation of the refuge.
He identified with the speakers and the crowd, but halfway through the six-hour meeting he said he felt it was going too long, and the information was too basic.
“They’re explaining it like they’re with elementary school kids,” he said after one speaker who discussed the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers.
He said he’d leave during the break in the middle of the event.