The halls of the Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse were quiet Saturday, but the two dozen protesters who lined the sidewalk outside 333 Las Vegas Boulevard South felt no need to deliberate.
They had already pronounced federal agents guilty in the shooting death Jan. 26 of Arizona rancher Robert LaVoy Finicum, an outspoken member of a group of armed occupiers of an Oregon wildlife refuge. The group’s takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns not only has made international news, but it’s also focusing an increasingly intense light on the heated history and politics associated with western land issues.
The shooting incident has generated so much interest, in fact, that the FBI swiftly moved to release video of a vehicle pursuit that led to the deadly gunfire. Finicum, the armed anti-government protester who had often spoken of defending freedom with his life, forfeited it right there on the side of a snowy country road.
Finicum’s family said he was shot in the back while his gun was holstered and his hands were in the air. An FBI spokesman countered that Finicum was shot after reaching for a 9-milimeter semiautomatic pistol in his coat pocket.
Maybe that’s why Robert Crooks, founder and leader of something called “Mountain Minutemen” of Needles, California, felt the need to strap on a holstered semiautomatic pistol on the sunny Saturday afternoon and take to the sidewalk. (The minutemen, you may recall, gained national attention by taking it upon themselves to patrol the borderlands for illegal immigrants.) It appeared the biggest danger he faced was accidentally stepping into the traffic that roared by, but that’s not how Crooks sees the world.
“What’s going on here is you’re seeing a manifestation of the frustration in America,” Crooks said. “The American people have been led down the trail by this corrupt government for decades. As it’s turning now, the U.S. federal government has overstepped its boundaries. They ambushed and assassinated an unarmed man in Burns, Oregon, on his way to a constitutional meeting. They arrested the Bundy brothers and his cadre en route. There was no reason for that type of assault. I’ve reviewed the video several times. They pre-positioned the drone. They pre-positioned the roadblock. It was premeditated murder.”
Does it matter to you that Finicum and his fellow Malheur occupiers were often armed and that the deceased expressed his heightened importance as a constitutional freedom fighter in essentially apocalyptic terms?
Not to Crooks and his compadres it doesn’t. Some of the signs they carried read, “Government is Murder. RIP LaVoy” and “Justice for LaVoy.”
If Crooks’ name sounds familiar, you may have heard his anti-immigration rants on the radio. He was also on the scene in 2014 outside Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy’s place as the facilitator of the “Bunker Hill” staging area.
That’s where he married his wife, April, who stood on a traffic island during Saturday’s protest and waved signs in honor of the departed Finicum.
She was part of a group of illegal immigration protesters when she heard about Bundy’s dustup with the Bureau of Land Management. She drove straight to the gates of the ranch.
“What the government is doing is wrong,” she said above the grind of engines and honking horns. “It’s going way overboard.”
Back on the sidewalk, David Ward wanted to talk about the importance of knowing the Constitution. Although he said he was a former military man, and recently returned with his dog Abby from the Oregon compound, on Saturday he looked more like a Motley Crue roadie.
“I think we have a problem in this country with pubic officials who swear an oath to a Constitution they’ve never read, and they don’t understand it,” Williams said.
Although Robert Crooks had already announced the guilty verdict, he wasn’t finished holding court. It appeared officials Finicum encountered in the days leading up to his death shared responsibility for pulling the trigger. From the local mayor to the county sheriff all the way up to the FBI and members of Congress, there was blood on their hands, he said.
“All of these people are deeply culpable for the death of Robert LaVoy Finicum,” he said with dramatic emphasis, claiming that the dead man was unarmed. “If they found a weapon on LaVoy Finicum, it was planted.”
Numerous published reports refute that, but Crooks and his cohorts remain unfazed.
“A true American patriot has been murdered,” he said.
Then he went back to holding court and waving at the passing traffic.
John L. Smith is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a fourth-generation Nevadan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.