23 January 2016

Today, I signed the on-line petition of "We the People," joining with (at the time of a news story today) 17,000 other citizens who are saying to President Obama that "we respectfully request that you end the armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge immediately." I was glad to add my name to the petition, and hope it makes some difference, but really: do we need to petition the President before he takes action in a clear-cut case of domestic terrorism?

   From their first day at the refuge, these "occupiers" have engaged in criminal activity. They have cut down refuge signs for firewood (caught on tape); they have taken down fences (caught on tape); they have used government equipment to bulldoze new roads (caught on tape); they have used government vehicles for private purposes off the refuge (caught on tape, and one "occupier" arrested for car theft); they have proclaimed that they have armed snipers ready to repel any attempt to remove them from the refuge (caught on tape); they have caused damage to Piute sacred grounds (caught on tape); they have established their own judge and jury to "try" government workers for alleged "crimes" against "the people" (caught on tape)... the list could go on.

   Nobody seems to know why the FBI has not acted. Some say that they are hoping that the "occupation" will fizzle out on its own, and there won't have to be an armed confrontation. A nice hope, but the continuing rhetoric from the criminals makes it clear they don't intend to leave peacefully. It's true that the more they talk, and as their talk gets crazier (I even heard them bring "Obama Care" into one of their taped television interviews), they lose whatever support they might have had from rational people. On the other hand, their continued uncontested presence is encouraging more armed crazies to join them. We are now hearing on the news that they have brought children onto the refuge, one more indication that they are solidifying their position, and making arrests without harming innocents more difficult. Waiting is not the answer.

   I know a little about national wildlife refuges. I worked for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for almost 35 years, beginning by living and working on refuges in Nevada, California, and Idaho. From 1984 to 1994, I was the regional supervisor for all the refuges in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, including Malheur. Many of the refuges in these states are located in rural areas, and in that part of the West where it seems like there is a "Hate the Government" gene imbedded in the community DNA. The undercurrent of feelings that "things would be better if the Feds weren't here" can make both refuge managers and refuge neighbors uncomfortable. It's obviously not a good situation, but in most cases it can't even be called an animosity. It's just how things are.

   The relationship between Harney County and Malheur Refuge is typical of how things have worked out over the years. Despite philosophical differences, most refuge people have become good neighbors to their neighbors. They have become part of the local community, themselves. Their kids have gone to local schools, the families have attended local churches, they have shopped  locally, joined local clubs, and supported local charities. When there have been issues with refuge neighbors, they have looked for solutions. There hasn't always been a happy resolution, but good faith discussions on both sides of an issue have usually led to a semi-comfortable "agree to disagree" conclusion. Yes, we have had issues that defied solutions, but in my ten years as district supervisor it only occurred twice. In both cases, the dispute involved only one neighbor, not the whole local community.

   This "occupation" has nothing to do with refuge management. Most Harney County citizens are now making it clear that, after the initial excitement of having someone "stand up to The Government" has worn off, they don't consider these people their friends or helpers. Almost everyone wants them gone. Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward wants them gone so badly that, as recently as January 21, he was quoted as saying he was willing to give the criminals "safe passage" if they would just go away. "At this point, if those folks walked out the back door and left, I doubt anybody would stop them." (Kevin Hardy story, in the Portland Tribune, 21 January 2016). Really?

   It would be nice to have this situation end peacefully, but would any law enforcement agency actually ignore the crimes that have been committed? Thankfully, this is a Federal case, and out of the hands of a county sheriff. But what is the FBI going to do?

   Throughout my life and career, I have been a peace maker and negotiator, but there is nothing to "negotiate" here. My recommendation to the FBI: don't waste another day. Tell these criminals that the "occupation" is coming to an end. Tell them that there are only two alternatives: (1) they will surrender peacefully, they will be arrested for criminal behavior, and they will be able to plead their cases in court; or (2) they will resist, there may be armed conflict, someone may be shot, and then they will have resisting arrest, and possibly attempted murder, or murder, added to the charges.

   This has to end. Just because it is occurring 30 miles from a tiny town in a mostly unpopulated county does not make it any less of a crime. Armed terrorism is armed terrorism, no matter where it occurs or who is involved.




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