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LaVoy Finicum, Oregon militant killed by police, said he was ready to die for freedom

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, the Oregon militant killed by law enforcement Tuesday night, swore repeatedly that federal authorities wouldn't take him alive.

Finicum, a 55-year-old rancher from northern Arizona, said it over and over to the media outlets that interviewed him while he sat under a blue tarp at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

He told CNN earlier this month: "There's no way I'm going to sit in a concrete cell where I can't see the stars and roll out my bedroll on the ground. … It's OK. I've lived a good life."

And MSNBC: "There are some things more important than your life, and freedom is one of them."

And even in his Twitter bio: "Rancher, Loves Freedom and willing to fight and die defending it."

Like many of the militants at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, Finicum first clashed with federal authorities during their standoff with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in 2014. Finicum, who, like the Bundys, was a Mormon, rode with the family when they defied federal authority over unpaid grazing fees, according to the St. George (Utah) News.

Although both Finicum and the Bureau of Land Management described their previous relationship as positive, Finicum then decided to defy them himself, the newspaper reported, refusing to pay grazing fees or heed federal restrictions on when and where his cattle could graze.

Finicum became a bard and spokesman of the anti-BLM movement. He blogged and posted YouTube videos under the title "One Cowboy's Stand for Freedom." He wrote and self-published a novel, Only By Blood and Suffering, a right-wing fever dream of a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Talking Points Memo described the novel this way:

The account–although it is fiction– is a peculiar amalgamation of a make-believe family encountering a series of very real conservative nightmares. It's chock-full of footnotes and allusions to modern-day right-wing obsessions over everything from how "the Republican party continues to alienate their conservative base" to NSA spying and the threat of a nationalized police force.

Finicum and his wife, who had 11 children, also took in foster children, which Finicum told Oregon Public Broadcasting was his main source of income. He told the radio station that more than 50 boys spent time on their Arizona ranch in the past decade.

Finicum became a spokesperson for the Oregon occupation

When Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Cliven Bundy's sons, went to Burns, Oregon, to protest mandatory minimum sentences for the Hammonds, local ranchers convicted of arson, Finicum went with them.

He'd been upset about the case since October 2015, when he posted a YouTube video about the Hammonds. "I'm pretty upset with what the BLM has done to them," he said, adding: "I'd like to use a lot stronger language, but my daughters and my wife will probably watch this, and my mom, so I'll refrain, but dadgummit, it's got to stop."

He invited the BLM to confront him: "Here I am. You come pick on me."

But BLM didn't. The Oregonian reported that the case of Finicum's unpaid grazing fees was handled administratively. So Finicum went to Oregon, where he became a spokesperson for the militants, giving interviews with local and national media outlets.

Monday night, in an interview with Resistance Radio, Finicum said there was "a lot of saber rousing" going on around the militants and described the federal government as "beating the war drums." "We just carry on," he said, according to the Oregonian. "We don't worry about it."

Finicum was killed Tuesday night. Although Finicum swore repeatedly that he'd never surrender, his fellow Oregon militants said in a YouTube video that Finicum was killed "on his knees, with his hands up."

So far, law enforcement has released little information about his death. If the militants' account is true, it's not the way Finicum said he'd face legal authorities.

"I will never point a gun at somebody that's not pointing a gun at me," he said in the January 6 interview with MSNBC.

"And if they point a gun at you?" the reporter asked.

"You don't point guns unless you're serious," Finicum said.

"Do you think they're serious?"

"Well, we shall see. … My kids are grown. They're good kids. And there are things more important than your life."

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