Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, the Oregon nature reserve occupier known as “Tarp Man” who was shot to death last week after trying to escape arrest and reaching for a gun, died as he lived: A man with deeply held fantasies about freedom and the absolute rightness of his cause. After becoming best pals with welfare rancher Cliven Bundy during the 2014 standoff with federal officers at Bundy’s ranch, Finicum went home to northern Arizona and wrote him a novel about one brave man and his family opposing the forces of tyranny.
Surprisingly, the novel, Only by Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom, isn’t quite as completely unreadable as we’d anticipated. It’s merely tedious, badly written, laughably preachy, and composed of militia propaganda standing in for dialogue, with some pretty cheesy action sequences thrown in to hold the whole mess together. It’s a bit like somebody read a lot of Red Dawn fanfiction while visiting Alex Jones’s Infowars website. How bad is this book? It’s so deliciously bad that we’re going to make this review a two-parter, because there’s simply so much wonderful idiocy in it we’d feel remiss if we didn’t share as much as possible with you Wonkers.
The plot, such as it is, follows the travails of the Bonham family, whose patriarch, a flinty old cowboy named Jake, lives on a ranch in southern Utah, near the conveniently-named real town of Orderville. The action starts off with Jake’s adult children making their way to Dad’s ranch as the USA is rapidly falling into disorder following an economic crash. In Albuquerque, the oldest daughter, Cat, barely escapes her mother’s upscale house in a gated suburb as it’s overrun by a gang of thugs who murder Mom. While she heads for the hills with her bug-out bag and trusty Sig Sauer 9mm (gifts from Dad), Cat reflects on the tragedy:
“Mom, Mom,” I spoke softly into the night as the first flakes of a winter storm began to fall. “Why did you trust the politicians and turn in your gun? How could you ever believe the government would keep you safe?”
These thoughts quickly turn to thoughts of Dad, the cowboy, and of his gun, a “44-40 Colt, single action revolver” — Finicum doesn’t do commas so good. In Cat’s memory, the gun gets a much more loving description than we ever got of poor dead mom back in Albuquerque:
The handle was hand carved from a single piece of rose wood. The deep maroon colored wood was polished smooth by the calloused hands that had held it. The steel of the gun had never been left un-oiled and with the years of wear from the holster it had developed a patina that accented the quality of the gun. It was always buckled around the narrow hips of my father in a double loop Mexican style holster.
We next meet Dan, the eldest son, as he and his small family flee San Diego eastward into northern Arizona, following old Route 66. As he drives his Cadillac Escalade through the night, towing a trailer of survival essentials, he recalls his father’s warnings about the coming economic devastation as the USA became ever more dependent on foreign debt and fake Federal Reserve money that isn’t backed by gold or silver. Dan is consumed with regret that he hadn’t followed Dad’s advice to stockpile at least a year’s worth of food, and is ashamed at the thought that he’s bringing so little food to the ranch, and of course that he hadn’t bought a gun before “our previous President” had forced gun control on the nation and it was upheld by a corrupt Supreme Court which “had paid lip homage to the Constitution and Founding Fathers while at the same time shredding the tattered document even more.”
Suddenly, the Escalade’s engine stops, as does every other vehicle on the highway: An attack with high-altitude EMP weapons (a favorite prepper/wingnut theme) has killed all unshielded electronics in North America. Meanwhile, outside Albuquerque, Cat sees a flash as a nuclear weapon destroys “Luke Air Force Base,” which is actually near Phoenix (Albuquerque is home to Kirtland AFB), but you can’t expect a writer to check every little detail.
Happily, thanks to their upbringing on the ranch, everyone’s prepared for survival. Cat very conveniently finds a huge cache of survival gear buried by Dad on one of his occasional trips to Albuquerque, and we get a fine scene of her equipping herself with warm clothes and boots, described in excruciating detail (the scene may have been written with help from the Cabela’s catalog). Dan and family are attacked by a couple of bad guys and manage to defeat them and take their guns — “So much for gun control keeping guns out of the hands of the bad guys” — and then trade one of the baddies’ guns for mountain bikes from a nice old couple in a stalled RV. Along the way, Dan recalls his dad’s strategic wisdom:
“[When] our country gets hit it will be a massive nuclear ‘first strike’ by Russia and China. They are not going to waste just a single EMP strike on us, even by proxy of radical Islam. If they were going to seize the economic engines of Europe and Asia they must first render America inert. They will use a potent concoction of nuclear missile strikes coordinated between the two countries. They will target most of our military bases and much of the power production in our country. And, of course, they will use several well-spaced EMPs.”
Wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what happens when your dad is an all-seeing Freedom-loving oracle.
Almost as an afterthought, Finicum throws in two more daughters, twins who are attending a university and immediately know what’s happened when they wake up in the middle of the night and there’s no electricity on. They’re named HayLee and KayLee, and are such completely identical twins that they don’t bother having individual personalities, but being twins turns out to make them awfully convenient Exposition Girls. Consider this gripping dialogue as KayLee wakes up in their darkened apartment:
“HayLee, get up,” she called to her sister in the dark. “We need to be moving.” The tone of her voice brought her sister wide awake. “What is it KayLee?”
“I think our world has changed and we need to be moving.”
“Turn on the light, KayLee.”
“No can do, sis. They don’t work.”
Having instantly sussed out that this is no mere blackout — no cars are moving, and the only explanation has to be the EMP attack that Dad foretold — the girls grab their fully equipped bug-out bags and matching Sig Sauer 9mm semiautomatic pistols and begin bicycling south from Orem, Utah, remembering (as every adult Bonham child must) their father’s words of wisdom before they left for college. He told them all about their inalienable rights, especially the rights to own property and bear arms:
“Those rights come to us at birth,” he told the girls when he had helped them pack the Sig Sauers into their bug-out-bags. “They come to us from God and no man, or group of men, has the right to take them from you. It does not matter if it is the tyranny of a tyrant or the tyranny of the majority, tyranny hates the right to self-defense. It is a threat to them. Now you are going to be taught different things at the university. You will be taught that the collective society determines what rights a man has and does not have. Therefore, those rights are always changing and drifting with the tide of popular opinion. Remember, the vast majority of Germany supported Hitler in the beginning. Majority rule must stop at our unalienable rights. Without that, pure democratic rule is a terrible thing. It’s like two wolves and a lamb voting to see what’s for dinner.”
You almost get the feeling here that Jake Bonham is some kind of idealized version of LaVoy Finicum, maybe. He’s a regular Tarpy Sue.
Before hitting the road on their bikes, the sisters sadly view the parade of bewildered folks wandering the streets of Orem after the cars have all stopped. Why there’s a crowd in the middle of the night does not matter. There have to be some fools to pity and about whom to have this very realistic conversation:
“KayLee, look at them. Don’t they look lost,” she said, motioning to the people now walking away from their cars. “They don’t know what hit them. This looks just like Dad said it would right after a nuclear strike. If they think the high inflation was a serious hardship, well, what do you think is going to happen when they figure out that, along with their own cars, the semi-trucks that bring the food to the stores are not running either?”
“It’s going to be bad, HayLee. I feel for the good people that turned in their guns in the mandatory buyback program of the Feds. This is no place to be in a couple of days so let’s blow on out of here while they’re still scratching their ears.”
“You said it, Sis. Let’s make some tracks.” With that they gave each other a fist bump with fists that were bundled in warm gloves and mounted their bikes.
Considering how much of the first third of the novel involves Jake Bonham’s scattered children making their way to his ranch on bicycles, it’s a damned shame Finicum never learned the difference between pedaling and peddling.
Meanwhile, Dan and his wife have bundled up their toddler and their sick little baby in snuglis and strapped vital supplies in backbacks, and are making their way to the Grand Canyon, where their plan is to ride down the trail system so they won’t have to risk going the long way around through the urban hell of Flagstaff, Arizona, where anarchy has no doubt already broken out. As they enter the national park and pass an already abandoned ranger station, Dan becomes increasingly furious at the lies of Big Government that have enslaved Americans and left them unable to survive on their own:
People were standing outside the station. They seemed lost and waiting for the park ranger to emerge from the building to give them guidance. The large group turned their heads and watched as we peddled by. We did not wave, we did not acknowledge them. They were sheep waiting for a shepherd that would not come. How many generations had it been, as the quiet beat of government drums grew ever louder, beating out the mantra, “We can help, we can make it fair, you can trust us.” The “Good Government Shepherds” were not here for these sheep and in the days and weeks to come they would be torn by wolves.
And then the little family makes good their escape, riding down trails built and maintained by that tyrannical nanny state, even appreciating how “wide and easy to travel” the Kaibab Trail is. At the bottom (after riding bicycles down the 20% grade of the lower Kaibab Trail while each laden with a child and a backpack), they cross the Colorado River on a suspension bridge built with taxpayer dollars in 1928, and find refuge with some tourists at Phantom Ranch — also built by the terrible Federal government. Then in the morning they intimidate some out-of-shape park rangers, take their guns, and escape with a river tour boatman who likes to quote Thomas Jefferson.
Once out of the Canyon, they take to the trails again, but the sickly baby dies and Dan’s first impulse is to rage at the out of control federal government that ruined America:
Anger rose up inside of me. I wanted to blame someone, anyone. But who? Who had allowed our country to become so vulnerable?
Dad had said that when this country got hit it would be a surprise to all but the real power brokers. I had a hard time believing his conspiracy theories but not anymore. Was I not standing in the dark rain, on a bench in the Grand Canyon? Was not my wife and two year old boy huddled together by the body of my dead baby? It was no theory now! It was real and the cost was dear.
My fist clenched as my anger turned from anger to hate. Would to God that the traitors could be tried by a jury of their peers. I would gladly tie the noose and see them hung by the neck till dead.
That would be us, dear Wonkers. By cooperating with the tyranny of big government, deficit spending, foreign debt, unilateral disarmament, and giving up the Gold Standard, we all killed Dan’s baby. We feel pretty bad about that, we guess.
Part Deux: One-man Cowboy Army Restores Freedom, with guns and only slightly shorter speeches than John Galt.
Only by Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom, by LaVoy Finicum. Amazon Kindle E-Book, $6.99 or free to read with “Kindle unlimited” membership. 245 pages. Legends Library Publishing, 2015.