A furious debate has erupted across social media following yesterday’s release of a 26-minute video by the FBI of the pursuit and fatal shooting of LaVoy Finicum, one of the Malheur NWR protesters, on an Oregon highway Tuesday with many calling it murder and others arguing that he was killed while reaching for a concealed handgun.
Caught squarely in the middle of this fury is Lars Larson, the Portland-based veteran radio talk host who has been following the takeover at Oregon’s Malheur facility by a group variously described as “protesters” or “militia,” led by Ammon Bundy. Finicum was at the wheel of one of two vehicles intercepted by federal and state authorities Tuesday on the highway north of Burns. The video shows Finicum’s vehicle leaving one traffic stop and then crashing into a snowbank at a second roadblock a few minutes later.
It was within seconds after that crash, which nearly hit one officer, that Finicum can be seen exiting the vehicle, initially with arms raised. But at the fatal moment, as the image above – captured from the FBI video – shows, Finicum had lowered his arms and appeared to be reaching inside his coat. It was there, according to the FBI statement issued yesterday, that authorities recovered a loaded 9mm pistol.
Conspiracy theories abound. Some say Finicum was “assassinated.” Others suggest he was shot while his hands were up and that the video merely shows him reflexively reaching toward the gunshot wound. Because there is no audio, there is no way to tell from this video when shots were fired.
The video does show him reaching down at least twice. Larson has followed the protest for weeks and on his Facebook entry Thursday night, he posed this question: “Tell me a good reason for a man facing officers with guns drawn to reach for a pocket with a loaded gun in it?”
Larson is taking heat from Finicum’s defenders, who are apparently sympathetic with the Malheur takeover and the Bundy family’s long-standing fight with the federal government. Bundy and his brother, Ryan, were both arrested Tuesday along with several other people. Ammon Bundy subsequently urged those remaining at the refuge to “stand down.”
Several days ago, Finicum warned that he had “no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box” but he also said he would “never point a gun at somebody who’s not point a gun at me” in a film clip shown by NBC News. During that interview, he was reportedly armed, and there have been images of him wearing a light-colored hat and sidearm posted on Facebook.
At the time he was shot, as the video clearly shows, Finicum was standing at least knee-deep in heavy snow, turning away from one officer with a drawn gun at the roadside and toward another who had emerged from a small stand of trees a few yards off the road. From the direction of his fall, it appears he was shot by the officer who came out from behind the trees.
Not only has Larson’s Facebook post garnered hundreds of comments, but reaction from Fox News viewers and Seattle Times readers has been equally hot, and perhaps just as divided. Many believe Finicum is a martyr. Others suggest he did something incredibly foolish, starting with driving away from the first traffic stop and ending by apparently reaching for the concealed handgun.
If there are other videos taken from the ground, with audio, they could help dispel rumors and speculation, and provide clarity to what happened in the 15-20 seconds between the crash into the snowbank, and the shots that felled Finicum. Then, again, people who already have their minds made up might claim any subsequent videos have been doctored to hide what they believe to be the truth.
This is the kind of incident in which truth can become as suddenly elusive as a breath of fresh air in a stuck elevator. Finicum, the Arizona rancher, had been identified as a spokesman during the Malheur standoff. If he could speak now, one wonders what he might say.
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