In one of dozens of YouTube videos posted this past month featuring teenager Victoria Sharp, who is from these parts, she flashes a wide smile when an online broadcaster offers to produce “The Victoria Sharp Show.”
It would play to a patriot movement audience.
“Will you please be the spokesman for our youth concerning our Constitution and our freedoms?” asked the broadcaster.
“Yes,” she said.
As for hosting a show, Sharp, 18, said she needed time to rest after her harrowing afternoon near the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
On Jan. 26 she witnessed authorities shoot dead one of the occupiers whose pickup truck had plowed past a roadblock.
So began Sharp’s rocket ride to stardom on the websites and radio shows that peddle in government conspiracies.
She says she watched from the truck’s back seat as Robert “LaVoy” Finicum stepped out, raised his hands and declared, “If you’re going to shoot, then just shoot me.” Then authorities fired on him in the snow. The FBI says that Finicum, who was a militia spokesman during the recent standoff, reached toward a jacket pocket where a handgun was found.
Overhead footage shows he left the truck with hands up but then moved at least one hand toward his coat.
“To any objective observer it looks like he’s reaching for something,” said Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which monitors militia activities and right-wing fringe groups.
“For those entrenched in this anti-government ideology, no amount of evidence will be believed. Victoria’s testimonial fits right into furthering the mythology that they regurgitate over and over.
“She’s being used as a witness to martyrdom.”
When she turned legal age, Sharp left her large family of child gospel singers in Auburn, Kan., 13 miles southwest of Topeka, and moved to Montana. Efforts by The Star to reach her this past week were unsuccessful.
But her views are all over the Internet and social media, where Sharp has become a kind of patriot princess.
On Feb. 15, a post on her new Facebook page read:
“My name is Victoria Sharp. I live in Lakeside, MT. When I traveled to Burns, OR, to join my family in singing at meetings and at the (Malheur National) Wildlife Refuge, I never expected that I would witness the murder of an amazing patriot.
“I honestly wish that I could erase from my mind everything that happened that day, but I know that I have a responsibility to LaVoy Finicum’s family, all patriots in the United States, and myself, to be strong and tell the truth about what happened on Jan. 26, 2016, when LaVoy was unjustly killed.”
She’s been crowned “Mockingjay” by some admirers, referring to the “Hunger Games” symbol of feminine fortitude in the face of dystopia. But at least one online detractor rejected her account of Finicum’s death with a three-word comment: “Pretty little liar.”
For a young, traumatized woman who some think is being manipulated, Sharp appeared poised and determined before the mainstream media on Wednesday. She joined the rest of the Sharp Family Singers at a federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., to lend support to a group of militants indicted for their roles in the occupation.
According to a report on the Oregonian newspaper’s website, occupation leader Ammon Bundy blew a kiss to the nine Sharps seated in the second row of the crowded courtroom. Victoria Sharp gave another defendant a thumbs-up.
After the hearing the Sharp children, led by mother Odalis Sharp, sang on the courthouse steps before piling in their blue van, dubbed “Spirit Driven.” Finicum’s cattle brand, LVF, was etched into a back window.
Odalis Sharp attests online that her daughter has been tapped for “a very high calling. And she is a girl who is prepared for that.”
Mark Connors, the broadcaster who offered Victoria Sharp a show, told The Star that she answers his prayers for a messenger who can connect with a young, female demographic that the patriot movement has failed to reach.
That she can sing is an added benefit, said Connors, himself a country-western artist.
“It’s pretty obvious that God put her in a pretty interesting situation,” said Connors, who operates ConnorsReport.com. “She can literally change history in this country as far as our youth is concerned. And she doesn’t even know it yet.”
The town of Auburn, population 1,200, rests among undulating hills. Off a gravel road west of town sits the Sharp family home, presently empty.
Sterling Hunter, a Baptist pastor, lives nearby. He has known the Sharps for more than a decade, dating to when they were living in Indiana. He said they arrived in Auburn about six years ago.
When Odalis Sharp was a teen, she and Hunter’s future wife helped form a Spanish-speaking ministry at the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Ind., Hunter said. He is not currently the family’s pastor, however.
Odalis Sharp is of Cuban descent and has 10 children. She was divorced in 2013 from the father of nine of the kids.
“Victoria — everyone around here called her Tori — she’s a lot like her mom. Kind of a spitfire,” Hunter said.
The oldest of her siblings, Caleb Vazquez, talked to The Star on the evening Victoria made national news.
He had seen video of his family singing at the wildlife refuge, where they had arrived from Auburn in their van to support the occupiers. From Montana, Victoria had joined them just the day before, Vazquez said.
“I just finished watching it,” said Vazquez, 20, who lives in Chicago. “It was very interesting. It’s so my mom. She’s a very interesting person.”
He said he was “very against” his family heading out there when he learned of his mother’s plans during a visit to Auburn in mid-January.
Around Auburn this past week, people familiar with the singing Sharps praised their vocal talents. But some questioned their political stance.
“I’m not surprised” that they became entangled in the standoff, said Jennifer Stauffer. “That whole family is charismatic to the core.”
Stauffer is a member of Auburn Christian Church, where the Sharps attended until a couple of years back. They broke away after Odalis Sharp locked horns with the church over worship services, said pastor Jim Wilburn.
Wilburn described Victoria as quiet but opinionated. She wrote a research paper extolling the Second Amendment, he said.
But Mom was controlling — she lost custody of son Caleb at age 15 when the state accused her of abusing him — and Victoria went her own way to Montana, where she found restaurant work as soon as she became an adult.
“Truly all the Sharp kids are quite talented, and it comes out best when they’re singing a capella,” Wilburn said. “They also play instruments — dulcimers, violins, harmonica. Victoria plays acoustic guitar.
“I’d have to give Mrs. Sharp credit for leading the practices of these children.”
Many others in Auburn — if they knew the family at all — were unaware this past week of their sudden notoriety. All being home-schooled, the Sharp kids kept mostly to themselves.
“It was a little spooky the way Odalis wanted her privacy,” said neighbor Hunter. “She’s not a bad woman. But she’s very protective of her children.”
Privacy doesn’t appear to be an issue now.
At a Jan. 26 town hall meeting in Grant County, Ore., seven of the children were singing to a packed house when their mother grabbed the microphone to announce that a shooting had just taken place. She revealed her daughter had been riding with the group involved.
As her other children began crying, Odalis Sharp, her voice rising, called on everyone to “stand up and pray for these people.”
“Somebody has to finally stand up and do something, and our family’s going to do it!”
Within hours Victoria Sharp was giving online interviews. She said she was in the truck driven by Finicum when police pulled it over. One occupant surrendered before Finicum peeled off, caromed off a roadblock and struck a snowbank.
The driver stepped out, “hands up” the whole time, Victoria Sharp later told CNN.
“He was showing no signs of aggression. … And he was very vulnerable. And they shot him dead.
“I hope that justice is done because he didn’t deserve that. His family didn’t deserve that. He had 13 kids, 22 grandchildren. And they didn’t deserve this.”
The CNN interviewer pointed out that Finicum, 54, had a loaded weapon in his pocket. She showed Sharp aerial footage of Finicum’s hands moving toward his waist. “That’s justifiable force,” the interviewer said.
Sharp allowed that from her vantage point in the back seat, “I can’t say if he was reaching for a weapon or not.” Later in the interview, she said she was sure he did not reach for anything.
The Internet videos and talk radio appearances took off from there. Victoria Sharp sang at Finicum’s funeral and tearfully repeated her story of an injustice committed.
Go to helpvictoriasharp. com and you see her Facebook page — Victoria Sharp, public figure. Here she keeps the patriot movement informed of the legal proceedings against the Oregon occupiers.
The page has more than 2,600 “likes.” This past week a fan commented: “God bless you … a real hero! (female hero).”
Somewhere along the way a “Hunger Games” narrative developed.
In lengthy radio interviews Victoria Sharp embraced the “Mockingjay” moniker. That prompted a strange series of discussions on a website called EnterThe5t4rz (EnterTheStars), dedicated to “decoding” current events in biblical terms.
Its narrator pointed out that Finicum’s name eerily resembles that of Finnick Odair, another character killed in an attack on the evil Capitol.
“Again,” he intoned, “everything is falling into place, duplicating the storyline of the ‘Hunger Games.’ ”
How many are listening to this?
EnterThe5t4rz boasts 31,000 subscribers. Its video regarding Finicum drew 3,000 hits on YouTube.
Human rights watchdog Burghart has tracked the more radical element of the patriot movement, which calls itself the “3 Percenters.” The name is based on paramilitary groups’ claims that an armed 3 percent of the American population during Colonial times was strong enough to overthrow the British.
Tales of perceived tyranny spread like fire through a small but passionate online community. Most Americans aren’t tuned in, Burghart said, but for the militant right, “they have their own echo chamber.”
And he said Victoria Sharp’s entrance into it is significant.
Hers “is a demographic they haven’t been able to tap into,” Burghart said. “Among young people, especially girls, these groups don’t have much of a following.”
He said that Sharp’s following may hope she can appeal to youth, but for now they’re older than 30.