Malheur Occupation Redux: Confusing Rifts in Reality

The armed militia led by Ammon Bundy that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters for 41 days are gone. Twenty-seven people have been arrested and await trial, including Cliven Bundy, mastermind of the first standoff in Nevada. The hundreds of media, members of various militia groups and array of law enforcement officers that occupied Burns and Hines for the same number of days are gone. The snow geese came and flew their temporary coops. Harney County was packed with birders in larger numbers than before. The headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge remains closed for repairs, possibly until summer.

Friends ask, “What was the occupation all about?” I’m still sifting through the emotional debris. As for others, the ill wind that blew in here still rustles up edgy nerves.

I’m a city gal. Since I moved to Hines/Burns ten years ago, I’ve been out to some of the ranches and met some of their owners, but still do not fully understand the business of ranching. My first inkling of how much I did not know came about soon after my husband and I moved here. I was out in the woods practicing tai chi in some obsidian digging grounds. For three months, I saw no one. Suddenly I sensed someone behind me and turned to see an old geezer, teeth yellowed, battered boots and Stetson, on a large horse. We looked at each other for quite a few moments. Then he bellowed: “’Ya seen my cows?” My face must have gone through quite a few changes, because he bellowed again, “‘Ya seen my cows?” I answered in starched English: “I am very sorry, sir, but I have not seen any cows up here.” He doffs his hat and away he rides. I could only imagine what he was going to tell his bunkmates about the old lady he saw waving her hands in some peculiar dance. It was the first time I recognized that finding and herding cows out on the rangelands might be a primary job.

As I ponder the occupation and its aftermath, I understood once again how misunderstood ranching life here is as seen by outsiders, including media that struggled mightily, and the armed militia that occupied the refuge and our town, so few of whom were ranchers or cowboys, even though the cause they seemed to espouse had a lot to do with ranching.

The range of ideas and emotions the occupation spurred, brought home, yet again, that there is a divide among many of us that live here in the city and the lonelier and harder 24/7 physical life lived by ranchers and their employees. It also showed me that many barricade themselves inside their separate and private islands and live in disparate worlds—emotionally and physically. No wonder we were ill-prepared to communicate with each other when life here got so shaken up.

The Malheur occupation showed us some very dangerous divides, what my husband called, rifts in reality, and their waves continue to radiate outwards.

Whose reality? The occupation revealed a confusing kaleidoscope. And so did almost every public meeting and private conversation, as people aired what they felt and thought.

What was the occupation about? At one level it was about morphing issues: first it was about a peaceful protest against the re-sentencing of father and son Hammond who were convicted of arson by a jury of peers in 2012. Then it became the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters by armed militia and their presence in town and stories of them following and harassing law enforcement, city and county officials, and employees of federal agencies and their families. Then it morphed into discussions of the occupation of FBI and a standoff mandated by them, with the intent of no bloodshed, neither to militia nor residents of Harney County. The issue morphed again as media and social media exploited the demands for the return of federal land to states, counties or private hands.

As the issues morphed, the rifts among Harney residents grew, and so did the acrimony among family and friends and businesses—almost, but not quite, inciting a hate fest. Anger and hatred were inflamed yet again following roadblocks that were set up by law enforcement against the militants and the arrests of Bundy, Payne and others on their way to John Day, and the death of La Voy Finicum, one of the inner circle, who tried to outrun the roadblocks, plowed into a snow bank, got out of his truck shouting, “Shoot me, shoot me,” refusing to surrender, and was shot. The media controversies about Finicum’s death and arrests of the militia subsumed all other issues for some time. Finicum’s wake still goes on and on as militia and family continue holding gatherings around the country. On April 24, about forty Finicum sympathizers gathered and mounted red white and blue crosses on highway easements from the place he was shot to the refuge (about forty miles).

The meme repeated during discussion of most any issue was that of government hatred.

Many here are still close to being clinically depressed. Some family members are still not talking to each other. I have heard of rifts within church communities. People that are running for local offices are wary of offering opinions on the issues mentioned above for fear of offending those who might otherwise vote for them. They spout the commonest of platitudes: “We want to improve Harney County’s economic prosperity.”

To only argue about issues is to ignore the much larger one that the occupation exposed.

On another level, the occupations was about how a very small group of armed, organized militia, some with past felony convictions, some lying about past military duty, some mentally deranged, some led by the inner voices of God, held a community in fear and loathing for 41 days at a terrible emotional and financial cost. The private, armed militias in our country are growing; they are networked into each other via video, radio stations, and social media; and they are organized and dedicated. Some of the tactics used in Harney County were sending thousands of emails to the sheriff and other county and city officials; and flooding  phones and 911 dispatch with messages.

You can see for miles at the top of the watchtower at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo by Mark Graves, Oregonian. The  watchtower, guarded by armed militia, just above the Malheur National Wildlife headquarters became a symbol of its occupation.

Sadly, the private militia found sympathizers among residents in Harney County who formed a homegrown version, with Bundy’s help, called “The Committee of Safety”.

The takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and our towns exposed our human frailties. We found ourselves not only unable to cope with the occupation emotionally and physically, but very much dependent on law enforcement to save the situation. Many barricaded themselves inside their homes; others left town to escape intimidations and threats of violence. We were shaken out of our complacencies. Some very large rifts in our disparate realities were revealed, and equally, our lack of communication tools to bridge them.

At the highest level, what the occupation was about was exposing our very deep seated fears of change in a world that is rapidly changing in ways that we cannot control: increasing climate calamities, war, population migrations, dwindling natural resources, and global population growing beyond sustainability.

Historically people facing rapid, uncontrolled change have turned to blame and shame; and sought spiritual and political leaders that will ‘save’ them.

Wasn’t that what fascism, Nazism, Mao and Stalin’s brand of communism was about? Hundreds of millions were disappeared and murdered. Isn’t that also the story behind the appalling genocides in such countries as Rwanda, Serbia, Darfur, Guatemala (Mayans) and Cambodia? Many more millions were killed by militias carrying the banners of god and ethnicity.

Visiting a naval museum in Chania, Crete, many years ago, I watched a school teacher leading a first grade class to the second floor, where there was an exhibit of Nazi’s parachuting down into Crete during World War II and killing off a tenth of the population. She shook her finger at them: “Never forget. Never forget.”

We too should never forget the impacts of this armed occupation. I know what I don’t want: a minority of private armed militias ruling over my life.

What should we remember?

Our country was founded on the principles life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—not for a minority, religious or ethnic or political—but for all who find home here.

(Other blogs on this subject are in older posts.)

Climate Change in Slow Motion

Turning on the news, I learn that history begins at breakfast. Four horsemen trumpet apocalypse: conquest, war, famine and death. Yesterday’s news has been eclipsed. “Life is changing fast,” I murmur. “Can’t keep up.”

The Four Horsemen: Conquest, War, Famine and Death

“Four Horsemen of Apocalypse” by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)

At a vista in Canyonlands National Park, the slow changes that sculpted this wilderness of pinnacles, canyons and rivers were occurring long before the creation of the four horsemen from the last book of the New Testament. The rocks I stand on were once ocean.

The doll'shouse formation was sculpted in slow time

View of the Dollhouse formations from the Golden Stairs in Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Hanna Flagg

In this scale, whatever legacies that ancient races left behind are lost in the detritus of petroglyphs and ruins—symbols of greatness and transience. I feel myself disappearing into the breath of the wind.

To steady myself, I start the slow movements of tai chi. The roots of the juniper and pinon coil downwards, forging pathways into sandstone. In the chalky dirt, I move carefully around the petrified logs of a pine forest that existed some 200 million years ago. The cataclysm that buried it happened quickly; yet the processes that mineralized the wood occurred particularly slowly.

Petrified wood and juniper forest

Petrified wood and juniper forest in Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Hanna Flagg/

Tai chi slows down my internal rhythms and grounds me into this present moment. The twin forests of death and rebirth at my feet remind me about the yin and yang cycles of change and the rhythms of fast and slow time. These will continue beyond any future I can project.

If this wilderness, in its pristine and natural disarray, had not been preserved so that I could visit and quiet myself down, it would be more difficult not to give in to primal bewilderment. History would always begin at breakfast. Visits of the four horsemen would fill me with dread. I would hoard my treasures, arm myself with guns, and guard my larders full of food and water. Greed and loneliness would become constant companions.

Instead, I return home purged of meanness. My enthusiasm and curiosity are restored. I have recovered equilibrium.

I continue teaching tai chi to family and friends to help them stay healthy and quell anxiety. I advise them to consume less; conserve more; seek the wild lands; and shun companies that sell death.

I write what I care about. My heart follows a path of peace.

It’s what I can do.

The doll'shouse formation was sculpted in slow time

View of the Dollhouse formations from the Golden Stairs in Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Hanna Flagg

Twelve Principles of Business Succeess

Musicians and artists ask me, “What are your business principles?” So I wrote them down and published them in my book, A Music Business Primer. It’s out-of-print, so here they are. They are particularly relevant in this ‘anything goes, whomever has the biggest bucks, lie when you can business world.’ These principles are not just for artists, but for politicians, doctors, lawyers, gallery owners and other shopkeepers—anyone that runs a business. They work to help businesses succeed. I look for businesses that are aligned with these principles when I choose vendors, sub-contractors, etc. The name of my business is Jerome Headlands Press (

Businesses are about relationships between people. Owners and their employees will develop reputations for being easy or difficult to work with: for delivering what is promised, or not, and for being ethical, or not. Bill Graham, my old boss, used to say, “Be nice to people on the way up, because you may need them on the way down.”


Diane Rapaport goes for a walk with a llama. Lisa Wolf, trains llamas and invited me for a walk in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. A well- trained llama is a pleasure to walk with. Lisa is writing and illustrating a wonderful book of stories about training llamas. Many of her business principles echo mine.

  1. Commit to making the business succeed. Without 100% commitment, the motivation to overcome challenges will erode.
  2. Work hard and provide leadership.
  3. Develop personal relationships with the people your business works with. Cultivate long-term relationships: they will earn you trust and good-will.
  4. Make it easy for people to associate and do business with you.
    1. Show up for gigs and appointments on time
    2. Keep promises you make.
    3. Return phone calls or respond to emails in a timely manner.
    4. Pay your bills on time. If you cannot, call people up and explain your situation.
    5. Be kind to secretaries and receptionists.
    6. Do not waste people’s time. State what you want succinctly and politely
    7. Say ‘thank you’ frequently. Forgive easily.
    8. When you make a mistake, apologize immediately. And do what you can to correct it, even if it costs you money.
    9. Cultivate positive attitudes.
  5. Provide value-added services to people that you to business with. It could mean giving away something for free or giving advice and mentoring.
  6. Treat your employees courteously; pay them a fair wage; be appreciative of their good work; and when you can afford it, reward them with bonuses and other benefits. They will repay you with loyalty and hard work. Training new employees costs time and money.
  7. Listen to others; find out what is important to them; listening, even to criticism, costs nothing, and you might learn something valuable by not being defensive,
  8. Ask for and invite advice. Good advice is invaluable Feedback is important, even when it is negative. Receive advice and criticism with enthusiasm and graciousness.
  9. Do every job and gig as though it were for the kingpins of your industry.
  10. Keep track of your money. Negotiate prices and services. Keep debts to a minimum.
  11. Cultivate a good reputation. Leadership in ethics, will be rewarded many times over in loyalty in people speaking well of you and dealing fairly and ethically with you.
  12. Give something back to the industry that fed you. Share information with others. Donate time or money to worthwhile causes. Count your blessings and help those that are less fortunate.

Bundy Siege: Overcoming the Rhetoric of Hate and Fear

The aftermath of the siege of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is littered with destructive polarities: a microcosm in Harney County that mirrors a troubled America. We live within a kaleidoscope that incessantly changes with the opening of each day’s news and facebook posts.

Harney County in Duress

I moved to Harney County ten years ago from Jerome, Arizona, a community in distress in the nineteen seventies. Some of the polarities that prevented forward movement are similar to those that we have in Harney County: a rhetoric of hatred and fear, shame and blame; entrenched bureaucracy; and fear of change. The fear of outsiders, particularly from the oldtimers, is entrenched, even before militant insurgents arrived here and caused such havoc.

In Harney County, our largest industries—hay, alfalfa and cattle—remain profitable, but are somewhat endangered, particularly the smaller ones. It is easy to ‘blame’ the government and talk about the ‘fix’ being a return of federal lands to the government. But the problem here is more complex: if profits for smaller ranches are declining, it is bue to a synergy of causes/effects: federal regulations, which also includes the lack enforcement of rangeland health (see, rising energy costs (heat and electricity), aging infrastructure and equipment, difficulty of finding part-time employees to work on the ranches in needed seasons, children leaving the ranches for the cities, owners getting older and less capable, and steep prices for ordinary items for daily living, particularly food and prescription drugs. Added to this mix is an official drought and declining water levels in ranch wells.

We are a  community under duress. And costs of the siege of our Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in millions of dollars and emotional chaos, did not contribute to economic relief. Just the opposite.

We need new industry. We need diversity. We need new ideas. Above all, we need to overcome divisive rhetoric of the siege’s aftermath in order to make way for change.

Jerome, Arizona’s Low Point

Many lessons can be learned from rejuvenation of Jerome, Arizona when the copper mining industry abandoned it in 1952 and left a bankrupt, virtual ghost town inhabited by about 200 people, many of them widows with children.

By 1968, the town hit its economic low. “Jerome was still very close to decay, particularly in the business district. Everyday finds another wall…a little nearer collapse and another building a little near to the point of no return…piles of rat infested rubble or empty foundations are not the kind of thing that can be advertised. “ (Study commissioned by the Jerome Historical Society) Not good for attracting new business, visitors or residents.


Book cover shows a derelict Jerome, AZ in the sixties.

It was not just the business district that was in trouble. Many homes had considerable damage and were barely considered livable. Many neighborhoods were firetraps. Broken water lines often left the town without water for days; sewage from broken pipes piled into yards and empty lots.

Under these circumstances, it was extremely difficult to bring Jerome out of its recessionary survival mode.


In the early 1970’s, about 175 cultural renegades moved into Jerome: some were artists, writers and musicians; some were homosexual; some could not stand authority of any kind; some were Korean or Vietnam vets; a few were computer programmers and scientists. One of Jerome’s new residents called them “The backwash of the avant-garde.” I called them hippies, because this group was so preponderant and visible.

No only were these newcomers not loved; there was huge antipathy, hostility and resentment against them from many oldtimers, particularly those who held office, were on such boards as the Jerome Historical Society, or served on the fire department. The Jerome town council passed a new ‘search and seizure’ ordinance targeting hippies and another that that forbade them from keeping bee hives; at least one new residence ‘accidentally’ burned down.

It was a recipe for disaster—a needy Jerome divided against itself.

As chaos and disorder increased, many newcomers recognized that any viable future needed cooperation, not dissension, participation not hostile ostracism.

“Living in Jerome is man against the mountain,” said Richard Martin, a hippie newcomer and furniture designer and craftsman that was to prove an effective agent of change. “You can’t live here without participating or the mountain is going to push the town off the side of the hill. I think that is the thing that made us different than a lot of other hippie communities. We couldn’t just sit around and party all the time. We had to pitch in to make sure water ran into our homes and toilets and sewage didn’t just run down the hill. I said to myself, do we really want everything to collapse, or do we want to roll up our shirtsleeves and get involved? This led to my volunteering for Town Council. I served three times and was elected mayor twice. I did it because it needed to be done. I did it because I believed in community, which to me means finding common unity. In 1975, we were at a crossroads of thinking. Many people were responding to rational, pragmatic ideas with emotional responses that didn’t mix, like oil and water. We had to learn to work together toward common goals.”

Casa Martin Jerome B & W

The house that Richard Martin bought in Jerome, AA for less than $500. Today it is an architectural wonder.

Today, Jerome, Arizona is a thriving artist mecca that draws 2 million visitors. The fascinating story of how this occurred is the subject of my book Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City

Diane Sward Rapaport's history of Jerome. Arizona after 1953

The first history of Jerome, Arizona after 1953, tells of its economic rejuvenation. I dubbed it a town too stubborn to die

Bridging the Rhetoric of Hate and Fear

The bridge that led to rapprochement between oldtimers and newcomers and fostered new beginnings in Jerome, Arizona were these: a great love for the town, one that approached a supernatural attachment; equally powerful were hope and need.

This same bridge among uncommon people can be built here in Harney County and help us heal from the destructive polarities we find ourselves in the midst of.

Love, hope and need are powerful allies in bringing uncommon people together, helping overcome antipathy and impelling them forward towards common missions.


Featured image by Kelly Hazen. Used with permission.

Bundy Siege and the Suspension of Disbelief

While teaching a free tai chi class at the Burns, Oregon Community and Senior Center, students expressed relief that the insurgents’ occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was over. Suddenly the bearded grey-haired man using a computer behind us stood up and angrily shouted. “It’s not over. Your paper money is about to be useless. The militia is still here and will be rising up again to prevent the tyranny of government oppression.”

“Do you know you are using government paid for computers and helping yourself to free bread in a center that is 65% funded by the federal government?” said one of my elderly students. “Is this what you mean by tyranny?” He looked at another of the grey-haired women facing him wearing a t-shirt that said, “Love heals.” He stalked out.

The delinking of what is said from factual reality is encompassed in the phrase “suspension of disbelief.” I first encountered it while studying ”The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He meant putting aside logic and rational thought for a story with supernatural or otherwise unbelievable elements. An example in our culture might be the voyage of Star Trek to alternate universes.

Now ask yourself what you would say to ‘trekkies’ that take the next leap of illogic and tell you that they know that alternative universes exist because they encountered some extra-terrestrials near Area 51 in Nevada who told them so.

Home on the Range

Michele Fiore, a Nevada legislator, justified the occupation of the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge as an exercise of the Constitution’s First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceful assembly. “I truly believe the refuge and the people who stood on the refuge … are prisoners because they exercised their right to political free speech… We’re talking about a bunch of cowboys camping in the middle of nowhere.” standoff/2016/02/final_four_holdouts_in_refuge.html#incart_maj-story-1

Never mind that these cowboys (and not all the insurgents were cowboys or ranchers) illegally occupied headquarters of a federal wildlife refuge for 41 days. Never mind that they put quite a few people out of work. Or used government equipment and fuel. Cut fences and built roads. Forget about bringing up the emotional and financial havoc they caused in our community.

Poor Old Cliven Bundy

Susan Hammond is the wife of Dwight Hammond, who, together with son Steven, were convicted of committing arson federal lands. The occupation of the refuge was sparked by controversy surrounding their return to prison to serve out mandatory five-year sentences.

When interviewed by Reuters, Mrs. Hammond said, “I cannot imagine why they would pick up an old man at the airport and charge him with something like that. It’s just piling on of government bureaucracy onto the Bundy family.” (

Bundy threatened to “do whatever it takes” to prevent the impoundment of his cattle, which were illegally grazing on federal land. On April 12, 2014, he did just that.

“BUNDY organized his Followers and gave them the order to get the cattle, directing a crowd of hundreds to travel more than five miles to the site where the cattle were corralled. One group of followers kept law enforcement officers occupied at the main entrance of the site by threatening to enter there, while another group—ultimately consisting of more than 200 Followers …assaulted the site from below, converging on its most vulnerable point: a narrow entrance located in a wash that ran under highway bridges. . . a significant number brandishing or raising their assault rifles in front of the officers. Some of these gunmen took tactically superior positions on high ground, while others moved in and out of the crowd, making their movement behind other unarmed Followers. The most immediate threat to the officers came from the bridges where gunmen took sniper position behind concrete barriers, their assault rifles aimed directly at the officers below. . …they pressed forward to and against the wash entrance , demanding that the officers leave and abandon the cattle, threatening to enter by force if the officers did not do so.” The law enforcement officers did not wish to engage in a firefight and stood down.’

Enter the Devil

For two months, I read how God was on the side of the insurgents and told Ammon Bundy to go to occupy the refuge. Then, counter criminal complaint filed by Shawna Cox, one of 27 people indicted on federal conspiracy charges for occupying the refuge, claimed that the devil led to state and federal employees “organizing to attempt to murder me and they executed my co-witness and co-informant Lavoy Finicum.” Cox claims that she and othersinvolved in these actions have suffered damages from the works of the devil in excess of $666,666,666,666.66 Six hundred sixty six billion, six hundred sixty six million, six hundred sixty six thousand, six six dollars and sixty six cents.”

“Evidence will also show that Oregon State Bar members including S. Amanda Marshall, Governor Kate Brown, Judge Grasity, Oregon State Senator Cliff Bentz, and others within the Oregon State Bar Association organized together to take complete control of the Oregon State Government so they could execute their personal objectives, agendas and the objectives and agendas of the predatory Oregon State Bar Association….and that some domestic terrorism liability policy instigated Judge Grasity and others to ratchet up the situation and terrorize the people of Harney County, Oregon and the United States, so they could profit from the situation and continue to execute their secrete subversive activities against our constitutional form of government.”

I doubt Coleridge’s wonderful imagination, even were he to live in these times, could have concocted so fantastical a conspiracy.

Certainly I can suspend my disbelief far enough to understand that Shawna Cox was brought up in a church where nonbelievers are considered instruments of the devil.

The Christian religion I grew up in preached religious tolerance. Like the sun, God shines over everyone.

My mom, uncle, and maternal granddad—well-respected lawyers and judges—also raised me to believe in the rule of law.

But Shawna Cox, and many of her insurgent followers—including Michel Fiore and Cliven Bundy—want me to join an alternate universe in which force and might, guns and bullets, trump the law. Perhaps they should all be put on the next Star Trek space ship to an alternative universe and learn to survive together.

The photographer of the featured image of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photographer. His work has been featured in many magazines, including AudobonNational Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with permission from Thank you.

Bundy Siege: A Meditation on its Aftermath

An evil wind blew in. It whipped up a malheur in my heart and shredded the emotional fabric of our community.

For 41 days, headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were occupied by a bizarre concoction of armed insurgents. Federal offices were closed, stalling more than 300 people from going to work. Some hid in other towns because of threats to themselves and their families.

The insurgents are finally gone. There have been 28 arrests, including that of Cliven Bundy, who can be called the “Godfather” of this wreck, and one insurgent death. The refuge is a crime scene to be cleared before employees can return to work.

Many here thought we lived in a safe, peaceful and beautiful redoubt, a sanctuary from the troubles that are so endemic elsewhere. How wrong we were. We were caught flat-footed and flabbergasted.

It’s going to take awhile until the detritus clears.

A Pack of Jackals

My thoughts return again and yet again to the unhinged pack of jackals that took over such a lovely and peaceful edge of our wildlands here and found a surreal refuge with each other.

My first introduction to the insurgents was a selfie video posted Dec. 31 by anti-Muslim activist Jon Ritzheimer from Arizona tearfully announcing to his family that he was abandoning them over the Christmas and New Year holidays “to protect and defend the Constitution” against the “oppression and tyranny” against two ranchers convicted of arson. Police caught up with him in Safeway before he joined the refuge occupation and asked him to please remove inflammatory anti-Muslim signs on his car.

I watched videos featuring the anti-government ravings of Pete Santilli, the right wing radio host, who documented activities at the refuge. He once said he wanted Hillary Clinton tried, convicted and shot in the vagina for her “fake hunt down of this Obama, Obama bin Laden thing,” (Right Wing Watch reports.) I watched him at a town meeting that was held at the local high school, when police forcibly walked him out because of his obnoxious interruptions.

A particularly odious video  was made of Kelly Gneiting, the 400+ pound Sumo wrestler, naked except for some weird diaper, flexing his muscles out in the snow, challenging New Jersey governor Chris Christie to a fight, repeatedly calling him ‘little brother,’ which he was not. So far, Gneiting isn’t among those that have been arrested.

The first time I became aware of 27-year old David Fry, a latecomer to the refuge, was when he posted a video of himself using refuge computers to set up a now defunct website called (“I’m only using zip drives—so I’m not really breaking into federal information”). He was the last of the four holdouts at the refuge to surrender. I listened horrified for an hour an a half to a life audio feed as Fry jockeyed between suicide and prison, trying to bargain with the FBI to ‘pardon’ him for illegally trespassing on his first amendment rights, ranting on about how President Obama needed to be hung for treason and ISIS prayed for. He finally opted to surrender only if the FBI shouted “Hallelujah,” which they did. He appeared at his first legal hearing wearing some sort of protective strait-jacket to prevent suicide. This young man’s internal chaos greatly saddens me.

Next is Cliven Bundy himself, a man who flagrantly thought he was above the law and arrogantly flaunted the law by refusing to pay fees for grazing his cows on federal Bureau of Management land near Bunkerville, Nevada. He ambushed officials who tried to round up and impound 400 of his cows. Firearms raised, Bundy and company chased the officials away who were loath to start a firefight. That ambush started the ‘dialogue’ over who should control federal lands.

Cliven Bundy fortified his ranch with bodyguards and kept law enforcement at bay for almost two years, until they caught up with him at a Portland airport. He had flown in to help free his imprisoned sons. His bodyguards were forbidden to take firearms on the plane, and he was easily apprehended.

Only by comparison could other insurgents of the refuge, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, their bodyguards, and the rest of the flim flam at the refuge be regarded as sane, rational human beings. They thought they were invincible, freely coming into town bearing arms, attending meetings, shopping, holding court at the refuge with reporters and supporters. They displayed quite the arrogance to not worry about legal consequences.

Equally disturbing to me are the people that supported these insurgents, ‘loved them,’ thought they were real patriots, salt-of-the-earth, God-fearing men, folk heroes that were just opening up a ‘dialogue’—the armed militant groups that answered ‘an all call” to come to Harney County, residents here, some of whom formed their own militia group called “The Committee for Safety,” legislators from many states, and evangelists.

With God and the Constitution on their side, how could it all have gone so wrong?

For a very good timeline of the events:

Law and the Constitution

I continue to be baffled by the bizarre, confusing, and sometimes unhinged interpretations of law and the Constitution that were bandied about by insurgents and their supporters.

Events here unfolded in early January with protests against the sentencing of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father and son ranchers that were sent back to prison to serve out five-year sentences for starting fires on federal lands, a local issue that has divided many families and friends. Armed militia groups arrived here from other counties in Oregon and many states to help stage the protests. Justifications against sending the Hammonds back to prison ranged from what generous, community-minded people the Hammonds were, to the fires that they set being small and immaterial—despite endangering a few lives—to their re-sentencing exemplifying double jeopardy.

Who wants to listen to the definition of double jeopardy as being tried twice for the same crime, which was not true, of the fact that the first judge in the case illegally decided to disregard the minimum sentencing law, granted the Hammonds some lenient few months, and retired the day after to avoid any reprisals against him. Should you bring up a history of abuse, particularly towards one of the grandsons, including getting him to light some of the fires and the use of a belt sander to remove a tattoo, people told me, “Well, they had a bit of an anger management problem that seemed to get much better the last few years when the Hammonds started attending church.”

Absolutely nothing can be said when you are told something like that.

Insurgents and supporters justified the occupation of the federal refuge as an exercise of the Constitution’s First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceful assembly. “I truly believe the refuge and the people who stood on the refuge today are prisoners because they exercised their right to political free speech,” said Micelle Fiore, a Nevada legislator. “We’re talking about a bunch of cowboys camping in the middle of nowhere.” standoff/2016/02/final_four_holdouts_in_refuge.html#incart_maj-story-1

Never mind that many of these cowboys were prominently armed. Never mind that they put quite a few people out of work. Never mind that they sifted through boxes of archeological artifacts. Or used government equipment and fuel. Or cut fences and built roads. Forget about bringing up the emotional and financial havoc they caused.

These armed cowboys were prepared to stay at refuge headquarters until the government turned over federal lands back to the people, or the state, or the local counties, depending on who was talking, to further develop mining, logging and ranching. This big effort of a land grab is backed by major money, including that of the Koch brothers and Florida’s Deseret Ranches, which owns the largest cow-calf ranch in America, and legislators that receive large donations from them to vote their agendas. Can the insurgents count on that major money to help them in court, or even acknowledge their service to their shadowy cause. I doubt it. The insurgents were sacrificial pawns in a chess game they didn’t even know they were playing.

Hope, Moral Clarity and Integrity

I started this blog to answer over a hundred phone calls and emails from family and friends who wanted to know what was happening here and was I safe. I wrote to try and puzzle out for myself the events that led to what seemed to be to be a profound junction of history being played out in this Western corner of America, a microcosm that mirrors a troubled country and world that is increasingly chaotic and violent. The direction to take from here is confusing and unclear.

Many here showed admirable leadership, moral clarity and integrity. They include:

Georgia Marshall, a fifth-generation rancher, who spoke powerfully and emotionally at community meetings and wrote long, impassioned Facebook posts, about her love of the land and the community she has come to love.

Sheriff David Ward shows a decency and emotionalism rare in a law enforcement officer. His steadfast command in a tremendously difficult situation deserves much praise and appreciation.

Charlotte Rodrique, Chair of the Paiute tribe, eloquently spoke of the collaboration between her tribe and refuge employees in collecting their artifacts and documenting their history. She was outspoken in her contempt for refuge insurgents who showed little knowledge of Paiute history. The Paiutes were the first occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge lands, and, sadly, the first victims of the white man’s rapacious land grabs here.

These people and many others, inspire signs of hope that our community and our country can heal from the destructive polarities we find ourselves in the midst of.

Soon employees of the wildlife refuge will be returning to work. There’s a lilt of spring in the wind. The deep snows are melting. The eagles have returned. Within weeks Ross’ geese and the great white Northern geese will be on the wing. Purple blue camas will cover the fields. We will welcome the visitors that come to see our bird migrations and attend our annual bird festival (

In the meantime, I will continue to sift through the detritus of these evil winds and walk towards a path of hope. As my friend Amos Burk reminded me at tai chi practice today, “Breathe in peace. Breathe out smile.”

The photographer of the featured image of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photographer. His work has been featured in many magazines, including AudobonNational Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with permission from Thank you.



Bundy Siege: No Win in Sight

The Narrows in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Wild bunchgrass and whorled dock line The Narrows in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. Photograph by Steve Terrill, used with permission.


A county shattered, in mourning, in relief, in disbelief. Confusion. Eleven arrested. One dead. Four are still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, asking yet another preposterous ransom, freedom from arrest.

We wanted a peaceful resolution, and we almost got it the first time around. The FBI and local law enforcement found the perfect place for a roadblock ambush up a steep canyon towards John Day, which is 70 miles from Burns. They chose a place up canyon near a major campground where they could hide their vehicles until showdown.

Car number one was stopped at the first blockade. Ammon Bundy and Brian Cavalier (“Booda”) were arrested. Drive Mike McConnell, a relative newcomer to the refuge, was taken into custody, questioned and then later released.

Behind them was the diesel truck that was being driven by Lavoy Finicum, that held Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Shawna Cox, and Victoria Sharp, an 18 year old member of the Sharp Family Singers, a bluegrass gospel group from Kansas that was scheduled to sing at the meeting in John Day. Lavoy stopped, then cut and run, saw the second blockade, swerved to avoid it, plowed into a snow bank, got out of the truck, and was shot. Four eyewitness accounts agree up to here.

Accounts begin to diverge about the actual shooting. According to a phone call that Bundy apparently made to his wife from the back of a police car, Lavoy was shot while he was on his knees with his hands up in the air.

According to Mike McConnell, Shawna Cox told him that Lavoy and Ryan Payne had a heated discussion and “The next thing Lavoy is out of the car and charging towards law officers. “

Then there’s the account by Victoria, who regarded the men at the refuge as heroes. Victoria must have felt quite the pride and self-importance riding with them in the car. What did she think when she saw the police convoy stopping the front car and Lavoy deciding to try an end run before crashing into the snow bank. According to her, “With the car running, Finicum got out of the car and he had his hands in the air and he was like, saying ‘Just shoot me, just shoot me.’ And they did. They shot him dead.” She did not report that he was saying, “I surrender, don’t shoot.”

She reported her story in an audio feed to right-wing reporter Pete Santilli in a car some hours after the takedown after she had been talked to and released by the police. You can hear the hysteria in her voice.

Then there’s the official account by the SWAT team., followed by a video taken from an airplane: “Finicum, with police in hot pursuit, attempted to leave the main road and drove into a snow bank. When he emerged from the vehicle, FBI and state police ordered him to surrender. That’s when, authorities say, Finicum reached down toward his waistband where he had a gun. The SWAT team opened fire. Finicum was killed. Ryan Bundy suffered a light wound on his arm.”

Now there will be trial by media and social media. Many, including Finicum’s family and Cliven Bundy, will believe that he was shot in cold blood, dying for the cause he believed in, a martyr. Others say, ‘Suicide by cop.’

Perhaps we might reflect that there weren’t more deaths that night in a very tense situation. Perhaps we might speculate that Lavoy’s death spared his family of the grief of watching their finances drain out in a long trial that would probably have ended up with Lavoy in jail. Better to regard him as a hero than as some deranged madman. Better to reflect that Victoria Sharp was released. That poor girl will hear bullets in her head hitting the truck as she crouched down in the cab of that truck forever. Hundreds and hundreds of bullets, she said. “Ten to fifteen minutes.”

Even if peaceful resolution had gone down without bloodshed, there would still be trauma and sadness. There was already a great deal of sympathy for the men that occupied the refuge in our community, one among many issues that have divided the community here.

Some of these men certainly had that old West charisma about them, the good outlaws with the big hats, a mythology wrapped up pretty good into their psyches and that of their followers. They were revolutionary heroes, brandishing guns of righteousness and spouting God and the Constitution. Nobody had more freedom of speech and a bigger bully pulpit than they did. They spouted off to every media outlet they could at every opportunity. The coverage was immense—more perhaps than Donald Trump.

Did they think their arrogant lawlessness would grant them immunity and freedom from consequences?

I hope that letting some of the occupiers of the refuge leave peacefully does not mean that they will be free of arrest at some future time. Selective enforcement towards some would open more wounds. Already people are asking why Mike McConnell was allowed to go free?

Early on in the occupation of the refuge, Ammon Bundy talked about ‘federal agencies putting one family under duress.’ His payback was to put an entire county in duress. Bundy and others scoffed at the ‘small fires’ set by the Hammonds. Their payback was to unleash an emotional firestorm and, now, a hugely expensive legal fight. They talked about their grand plans to help restore the economy by turning over federal lands to local control. Instead they’ve caused financial chaos. Millions of dollars. Who will pay those bills? Who bears the cost of the emotional bills?

These are not my kind of heroes.

The invasion of these outlaws into our community meant that many residents felt they were being held hostage to preposterous ransoms. Many were afraid and intimidated, their emotional privacy violated. As the numbers of militants from out of town grew. and are still growing, many of us felt as though we were living inside some kind of weird outlaw convention under the spotlight of an incredible cadre of media and an equally incredible cadre of law enforcement. Our local law enforcement and county and city officials suffer great tension. It’s been a no-win for everyone involved, and there is no real end in sight.

At some point, everyone from out of town will go home and leave us alone to heal our wounds. Perhaps then we can find some new conversation; some positive solutions to old challenges. Out of chaos often comes a renewed sense of purpose and unity.

What new directions and hope will we find?

The photographer of the featured image of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is by Steve Terrill, a renowned Oregon photographer. His work has been featured in many magazines, including AudobonNational Geographic Publications and Travel and Leisure. The photograph is used with permission from Thank you.