Today the FBI released a 25 minute aerial video of the chase along US 395 which culminated in the shooting death of LaVoy Finicum, and the arrest of Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, and an officially unnamed woman, who later identified herself as Victoria Sharp. The following links to the FBI’s written report.
Yesterday we asked, “Was LaVoy Finicum Murdered?” The FBI video release certainly narrows the range of interpretation possible, but many questions remain. Suffice to say the ‘conspiracy theory’ that he was kneeling and executed is certainly not true, which we already knew.
However, the FBI video also blew away the slander that Finicum committed ‘suicide-by-cop’. It further demolished the supposedly witness-backed testimony of Ammon Bundy driver and bodyguard Marc McConnell. Alone of the core Malheur occupiers, he was quickly released, and just as quickly put out a video report insisting that dear LaVoy, “charged” the cops. This is completely belied by the FBI footage.
What exactly happened to bring on the shooting, twelve seconds after he exited the car, hands held high in the air, is still uncertain. The lack of any sound component is a serious lacuna. Still, analysis of the film does alter my assessment of yesterday to some degree.
A few new “facts” emerged today. The FBI reported that the operation was jointly performed with the Oregon State Police. They also announced that OSP officers made the shots that killed Finicum. Why the FBI put the OSP up front on this operation, I do not know. Perhaps a matter of jurisdiction, or perhaps a matter of expertise, or perhaps the lack thereof.
The cops are somewhat absolved by the video. LaVoy does make ambiguous gestures towards his jacket on a couple of occasions. Something is going on between them we are not privy to. But he emerges from the car with hands held high in the air, and for the first six seconds of the twelve remaining to him, he keeps them there.
Quite contrary to the “charging” charge leveled at him by McConnell, LaVoy steps slowly and methodically away from the car, and away from the agents clustered around the roadblock. He first moves towards the trees hiding the agent who ultimately fires the shot that brought him down. Then he turns back towards the road with arms still upraised, evidently talking with a rifleman at the road and other agents near their clustered cars.
He is talking, the agents are pointing their guns, and they slowly close in. As the agents close in, about six seconds after exiting the vehicle and well away from it, LaVoy gradually brings his arms down and makes several gestures towards his jacket — – but no shots are fired. He does this a couple other times in the next six seconds, occasionally turning as if he hears the approach of the hidden agent from the trees behind (hidden to the camera, anyway.)
At first, LaVoy’s gestures are not quickly done, but slow, as if in response to the cops, or, perhaps, testing them. Only in the last second before he falls, LaVoy gets desperate and vigorously reaches toward his jacket pocket. (Has he already been fired upon at this point? There is no way I can tell from this video.) Now the agent from behind the trees moves in quickly with intent to kill. He dispatches Finicum from 10 or 12 feet. Indeed, Finicum seems to be shot, or shot at, from both sides at once, and maybe from several, but the absence of sound makes it impossible to know.
We lack sound, so we miss both the gunshots and the conversation. Victoria Smart reported that LaVoy said several things along the lines : ‘are you gonna shoot me? then shoot me’. Obviously, much more was said in the 12 seconds. At another place, Smart said: “he had his hands in the air and it was like ‘Just shoot me then’ because he didn’t want to go down he did not want to die, he had his hands in the air, and said, “ Are you just gonna shoot me? And then they just shot him.”
Combining gestures and reported words, it is still not possible to tell if LaVoy was questioning, taunting, or testing the police officers, or if he was just saying, I’m not going with you. But his behavior is always less threatening than that of the police.
Contrary to what VT concocts, he was not wielding a pistol, though the FBI report said he had a loaded pistol in his pocket. LaVoy was merely consistent with his words; he did not want a fight, but he was not going to prison. He would just walk on out of there ‘unless you’re gonna stop me, unless you’re gonna shoot me.”
Stories and even a photo circulated in VT suggesting LaVoy threatened the agents with a gun in hand and was the aggressive party. Jim Dean threw in the gratuitous calumny that he had tried to drive over an agent. In fact, neither VT editor seems to have viewed the FBI video or read the report; even the official written reports put the lie to both of those pieces of disinformation. Here is how the FBI depicts the critical sequence of events:
“As the white truck approaches the roadblock, there is a spike strip across the road but it appears Finicum missed it as he attempted to drive around the roadblock. He nearly hits an FBI agent as he maneuvers to the left. The truck gets stuck in the snowbank.
Finicum leaves the truck and steps through the snow. Agents and troopers on scene had information that Finicum and others would be armed. On at least two occasions, Finicum reaches his right hand toward a pocket on the left inside portion of his jacket. He did have a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in that pocket.
At this time, OSP troopers shot Finicum.”
As for the accusation of attempted murder leveled at LaVoy, that he tried to drive over a law enforcement officer, the FBI says more accurately that “he nearly hits an FBI agent as he maneuvers to the left”. In fact, the agent in question clearly jumps in front of the LaVoy’s car as it comes swerving into the snowbank. The agent quickly moves close and threateningly up to the car’s windshield, probably wielding a gun in their direction, but it is hard to tell.
Neither does the footage fully support the frightened testimony of Victoria Sharp. She probably exaggerated when she said they were hit by “a ton of bullets”. She also says they were “gassed”. The FBI on this:
“Approximately 30 seconds after the shooting, law enforcement officers at the scene deployed flash bangs to disorient any other armed occupants. Shortly after that, they deployed less-lethal sponge projectiles with OC capsules. Those OC capsules would be similar to pepper spray. Over a period of several minutes agents and troopers worked to safely remove the remaining truck occupants, and to take them into custody. Those people included: Ryan Bundy; Shawna Cox; and another woman, who was not arrested and will not be named.”
The last unnamed woman is, presumably, Victoria Sharp.
As far as I know, no one yet has refuted initial reports that Ryan Bundy’s arm was slightly wounded with gunshot. But the FBI report says they only fired ‘flash bangs,’ and “less-lethal sponge projectiles with OC capsules”. The explosions of the former are quite evident in the video and perhaps contributed to Victoria Sharp’s impression the car had been “riddled with bullets” and “bombarded with bullets”. The pepper-spray-like OC projectiles would be the “gas.”
Because there is no sound to the FBI video, it is altogether impossible to see when gunshots are fired. Smart said shots had fired out along the road, after they hit the snowbank, and once again when Finicum had been taken down. This is easy enough to investigate; let us hope it is properly done.
The investigation of the shooting of Finicum should continue until the full story is established. From what we can see, ambiguity is likely to remain, whichever way the verdict goes. LaVoy did not threaten, that much is clear. Most likely, he reached for his gun — if he had a gun — when he felt he was about to be physically restrained, or shot. That is, he reached for it in self-defense, in defense of a freedom he had already eloquently argued.
LaVoy lived under different laws than do the ‘codes and regulation enforcement officers’ that shot him. They were perhaps all doing what they thought was right. But LaVoy thought for himself. For LaVoy the choice was sovereignty or slavery, and in this case, that meant life or death. That last resort is not suicide but soul-self-preservation.