Friend Or Foe: Holding Ground At The Bundy Stronghold
One cold January day Reviewer Magazine went to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff near Burns, Oregon.
by Sarah Shafer @SASzilla
January 9, 2016. With the arrival of another uninvited civilian armed force during the day and a closed meeting with state legislators after dark, Ammon Bundy deals with a shift change a week into his armed occupation of Federal property.
“No one else goes in, got that?,” said the man in a black ski mask and camouflage ensemble. The second guard at the entrance to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge shifts the AK-47 on his shoulder to get a handle on his walkie-talkie.
“No one else gets in but us and Jon Ritzheimer. What are they doing out there anyway? They’re suppose to be helping with the cease fire.”
The man in the ski mask listens to something gargle from his walkie-talkie.
“Listen,” he says to a young man strapped with the AK-47 (his name was Will, I remember from when I first entered the compound), “We’re going to go grab gas and a few supplies and go see what the hell they’re doing out there.”
It’s pitch black at this point. I know this conversation isn’t meant for me but this is the only way in and out, so it’s the way I’m going.
The guards finally see me emerge into the small area lit by their campfire beside the truck blocking the road. I don’t know it yet, but later I realize the guards are talking about the day’s new addition to the occupation. A few hours before my arrival, another group of armed civilians called the Pacific Patriot Network (PPN) and the Three-Percenters, barged onto the scene here in Burns adding to the confusion. According to a statement released by the group, while they don’t support Bundy’s occupation of Federal land, they do: “Wish to establish a safety perimeter of protection for the occupiers so as to prevent a Waco-style situation from unfolding during this peaceful occupation. The primary intention of this outer-ring is to bear witness to any aggressive action initiated by federal agencies or the occupiers, and to encourage an open dialogue towards a peaceful resolution. [They] will serve as a neutral third-party intermediary to prevent bloodshed.”
The group’s president may have stood up with Ammon Bundy’s friend and supporter, LaVoy Finicum, in front of the press earlier in the day. However, by the time the sun went down, it was obvious that communications were strained, and, at least for the time being, the PPN and Three-Percenters would not be welcome to return to the wildlife refuge serving as the Bundy compound.
Sent down unaccompanied by the front guard, I was told I could “talk to anyone that would talk” to me. Beyond that, there was no instruction. It was snowing, dark, and the men seemed more inclined toward trudging on with their work than speaking to the media. A lone cameraman and Julie Turkewitz of The New York Times stood with me unguarded and anxious between the building of the wildlife refuge compound as we awaited further instruction.
Ammond Bundy appeared from around a corner with three of his children clamoring around him. I stepped back before one long-haired little girl holding a blanket could run into me.
“Mr. Bundy,” I said, shaking the man’s hand.
“Who are you with?” he asked each of the three of us in turn.
“I’m from a local independent magazine called Reviewer Magazine,” I said.
“You’re local? Where are you from?”
“Eugene,” I said, “Nice to meet you.”
“You, too,” Bundy said, and looked at his son at his side. Both resorted to putting their hands in their pockets, it seemed, unconsciously. It appeared as if he had run into us unexpectedly.
“This is my boy,” Bundy said, “He hasn’t got to see his dad in a week, have you?”
The boy looks down at the ground so that his cowboy hat completely hides his face.
“How old are you?” says the reporter from The New York Times. The boy makes a start, stops, and stutters.
She says, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“Well,” said Bundy, “how many of you are there?”
The little boy looks up at us from under the brim of his hat with a big smile that is missing teeth.
“Well, I’m twelve. There’s six of us,” he says
The lone cameraman moves off to record the smaller children swirling around the frozen yard.
“Who are you looking for?” Bundy looks from me to the New York Times reporter.
I say, “Are you available?”
Mr. Bundy shakes his head.
“I have a meeting with state legislators in a few minutes in the conference building.”
“State legislators? Who do you mean?” I say. Immediately, I wonder if he could be meeting with local government to try and resolve their differences and his grievances.
“Is that a closed meeting?,” asks the other reporter.
“Yes, it’s closed,” says Bundy, “It’s called The Coalition of Western States. They’re legislators from over eleven western states.”
Before I can ask Bundy a followup question about the role of the coalition in this occupation of Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge, and if he means to try to find a resolution to the situation with them, a pickup truck pulls up to him and rolls down their passenger window. He and the female passenger exchange a few words. Then Bundy starts giving out hand shakes all around as he says goodbye.
“Nice to meet you,” he says.
“You too, sir,” I say.
The gaggle of children walks behind their father as he follows the pickup truck towards one of the buildings down the way.
Online, the Coalition of Western States defines themselves as: “legislators, statesman and patriots united to stand against unconstitutional actions against United States citizens… formed after the Bundy Standoff in 2014.” I wouldn’t know until the next day about the nature of this closed meeting, and that in fact, Nevada and Oregon state representatives were personally meeting with Bundy there.
It’s at this point, after Bundy has walked away, that LaVoy Finicum sees me through an office window and gestures me to join him inside.
“You ask about taxation without representation, this is control without representation,” says Finicum.
The 55-year-old rancher and I go on to talk for well over a half an hour. He tells me his beliefs on how he thinks turning Federal land over to the state authorities will help local Oregonians. He tells me also about the flood of uncontested, bureaucratic laws that he believes prevents men from using common sense to steward public lands, the static nature of these laws, and how restrictions could be regularly re-evaluated to be more effective instead of enforced “at the barrel of a gun.”
Check back for the full interview with LaVoy Finicum at the Bundy compound.