By January 28, 2017 at 9:40 PM
JOHN DAY -- Caravans of trucks with American flags and "Don't Tread on Me'' banners rolled into town over several days to gather Saturday night for a conclave that was part memorial, part reunion and part religious revival.
A crowd of more than 500 people grew still as Jeanette Finicum took the microphone.
"They silenced one man's voice,'' she said, speaking of husband Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, an Arizona rancher shot and killed by police as he and others occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were traveling north to this eastern Oregon town of about 1,700.
"But in doing so," she said, "they created 13 more very loud voices'' - Jeanette Finicum herself and the couple's 12 children.
A year ago on Jan. 26, LaVoy Finicum and other protest leaders had planned to speak at a community meeting here, but never made it when their trip ended with his death and the arrest of the armed takeover's key figures. On this night, the meeting finally happened.
Jeanette Finicum said the year has been difficult, but the love and support she's received, plus her faith in God, have helped her family endure. They're submitting a notice of a claim with the FBI before filing a federal wrongful death lawsuitagainst Oregon State Police and the FBI, she said.
"It is a long road, but it is a road that we, our family, is willing to make,'' she said.
Thirty minutes before the start of the gathering, a line of people stretched outside the Grant County Fairground's Trowbridge Pavilion waiting to get in, coming from Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington and California. Finicum's daughters greeted them at the door and inked black stamps of LaVoy Finicum's cattle brand "LVF" on their hands.
They paid $15 to hear a slate of speakers and balanced plates full of spaghetti on their laps as they listened to critiques of federal government regulations that restrict farmers and ranchers.
The speeches mocked mainstream media, the prosecutors who tried occupation leader Ammon Bundy and his followers and the judge who presided over their trial.
"The not guilty verdict was the most amazing verdict of the century!" Kate Dalley, host of a radio talk show on a Fox News affiliate, cried out from the stage. She drew rousing applause from the crowd, filling more than 25 rows of folding chairs that stretched from one end of the pavilion to the other.
Four of the seven defendants who were acquitted last fall -- Jeff Banta, Shawna Cox, Kenneth Medenbach and Neil Wampler - were together again. They slapped each other on the back and hugged each other.
Cox, who came from her home in Utah, stood by a table, selling and signing copies of her book, "Last Rancher Standing: The Cliven Bundy Story a Close-Up View.''
"This is the first time I ever got to John Day,'' said Cox, a back-seat passenger in Finicum's truck when he sped off from a traffic stop on U.S. 395 and then crashed into a snowbank at a police roadblock. State police shot him after he emerged from his truck and reached at least two times into his jacket to grab what police suspected was his gun. He had a loaded 9mm gun on him at the time, the FBI later said.
On her way to John Day, Cox said she drove by the spot where Finicum was killed. "I didn't think it was going to be that tough,'' she said.
In the three months since she was acquitted in the federal conspiracy case, Cox said she's been "so busy trying to help the other people" -- the seven other defendants set to face trial next month, as well as Ammon Bundy, his brother, Ryan Bundy, and their father Cliven Bundy, who await trial in Nevada in the 2014 standoff with federal agents near the elder Bundy's ranch.
Jeff Banta, who also was acquitted last fall, said he drove 14 hours from Nevada to attend the meeting. "It's great to be here,'' he said. "It's great to be a free man.''
Since the October verdict, Neil Wampler, who served as a cook at the refuge during last winter's occupation, said he's been happy staying out of the limelight, back at his home in Los Osos, California.
"I hardly even go anywhere,'' he said. "But I couldn't miss this meeting.''
Strangers kept coming up to Wampler, introducing themselves and shaking his hand. "It's kind of overwhelming because I have so many friends here and a certain degree of fame now, not that I ever wanted it,'' he said.
One local woman on Twitter expressed concern about a social media post that Medenbach placed on Facebook this week, contending the Grant County Public Forest Commission, nullified by a Circuit Court judge, "HAS POWER TO BUY, SELL AND TRADE PUBLIC LANDS IN GRANT COUNTY, OREGON.''
He also posted a photo of a white van plastered with a sticker that read, "Grant County Resource Center,'' a takeoff on the "Harney County Resource Center'' stickers that refuge occupiers plastered on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service trucks at the bird sanctuary.
Medenbach, wearing "Not Guilty'' and "Justice for LaVoy'' buttons on his shirt, smiled and said his probation officer contacted him and told him to "tone it down.'' Medenbach is on probation for unlawfully occupying and camping on federal public land in Josephine County in May 2015.
Supporters could choose from an array of memorabilia to buy: black "LVF" caps that said "It Matters How You Stand," bumper stickers declaring "Liberty Rising" and "In God We Trust," shirts with the words "Defend the Constitution" and "Original Intent'' printed around a picture of an eagle and LaVoy Finicum's book, "Only By Blood and Suffering."
Lawrence Arata of Colfax, Washington, said he drove 300 miles to John Day. He was angry about the treatment of Harney County ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, sent back to prison to finish serving five-year sentences for setting fire to public land.
Liz Pettibone of Heppner said she supports the Bundys and believes it's unfair that federal prosecutors are pursuing trespass charges against the remaining refuge defendants. "How could they say trespass if it's public land?" she asked.
The defendants are accused of entering and occupying the refuge without authorization.
Toward the back of the crowd, Bob Salinger of the Audubon Society of Portland stood quietly. "Public lands are under assault," Salinger said.
He said he came to the meeting "out of curiosity and to understand the threat.''
The wives of Ammon Bundy and his older brother, Ryan Bundy, were there to support the Finicum family. Finicum's parents, David and Nelda Finicum of Arizona, said they were comforted by the large turnout.
Robert Finicum, LaVoy Finicum's son, said he drove to the site where his father died on his way from Utah to John Day. It was the first time he had seen it.
He wishes his father would have come home during the refuge takeover, but said: "He was passionate about his cause.''
Bryce Poulsen of Utah said he was impressed by the crowd. "I just hope it will keep growing bigger and bigger, and people see that we're not violent.''