Insurgents at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge are in their fourth week of occupation since a small group of armed white people came to central Oregon with the original intent to get two ranchers, in prison for a variety of charges including arson on public lands, released. Occupiers then transferred to a goal of getting all the public land in Harney County given back to ranchers. To accomplish this end, they are keeping the public from using the refuge and rummaging through 4,000-year-old Native American artifacts. Other illegal acts are tearing down a federally-built fence and surveillance cameras while stealing federal vehicles—wrecking at least one of them.
The debacle took a bizarre turn last weekend when Glenn Palmer, sheriff of nearby Grant County, said he wants the government “concede” to the occupiers by releasing the ranchers from prison and send the FBI away. That action would be just “a start,” according to Palmer. According to the Oathkeeper’s website, Palmer offered occupier leader Ammon Bundy a sanctuary in Grant County if he would leave the Refuge. Palmer has been very definite about not having spoken to Bundy personally, but he has texted him.
Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe, who has been helping Harney County Sheriff David Ward in Burns, said that Palmer “doesn’t help the cause. If anything, it hampers the effort to end this.” Wolfe, president of the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, said the state’s other sheriffs are concerned with Palmer’s conduct.
Palmer’s discussion with the occupiers started almost two weeks ago when he met in John Day with three insurgents and ten Grant County residents. John Day is 100 miles north of the refuge. After meeting privately with the sheriff, occupier Ryan Payne said, “[Sheriff Palmer] has a practical plan for helping unravel the federal government.” Palmer is a part of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a national nonprofit which interprets the constitution to severely limit federal government powers. Founder Richard Mack urges officials to overthrow county governments one by one to pursue a right-wing agenda.
Logger Tad Houpt, whose complaints about federal land management are promoted by the Koch-backed American Lands Council, has advertised a meeting in Grant County to learn about the Constitution and consider a Committee of Safety. Occupiers used the “committee” in Harney County to first establish credibility and then control the committee. Lead occupiers plan to attend the Grant County meeting. Grant County may provide fertile ground for the dissidents with residents unhappy about the slowness in restoring logging on the Malheur National Forest and plans to close forest service roads.
A community meeting in Burns regarding the occupiers scheduled for Monday, January 24, has been cancelled because of safety concerns. Harney County Judge Steve Grasty stated, “Preparations to protest and block entrance to the Senior Center have led me to determine that it’s time to take a time out.” He added that he “will not give these agitators what they want most, which is attention.”
The occupiers have voted to convene a “common law grand jury” overseen by Tea Party activist and so-called “sovereign citizen” Joaquin Mariano DeMoreta-Folch. Earlier illegal “grand juries” have resulted in government officials being kidnapped and beaten. Jury members have also filed fraudulent liens against officials’ homes and stalked or harassed them for years afterward. Typical indictment from extralegal grand juries is usually treason that carries a death penalty.
The FBI refuses to allow media to tape its “negotiations” with the occupiers, but the insurgents have taped and released them to the public. Insurgents have said they will leave only after investigations into a large number of federal agencies and the complete turnover of public lands throughout the nation to private citizens. Law enforcement have allowed armed infiltrators throughout Harney County, creating danger for all residents. Ryan Payne has voiced the opinion of the occupiers that they have the legal authority to kill police officers who, according to the occupiers, are “unlawfully trying to arrest” them.
The Paiute tribe is requesting that occupiers be blocked from free access to come and go from the refugee. Tribal chair, Charlotte Roderique, also told U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch that the government that it is obligated under its treaty with the Northern Paiutes to inflict punishment for “any crime or injury…perpetrated by any white man upon the Indians.” Roderique is concerned that the insurgents will finance their occupation by selling valuable Indian artifacts, especially if they can continue to mail materials. Videos have shown the occupiers rifling through these artifacts.
Drone hobbyist Mark Cooper made this video of the refugee last Saturday.
Palmer is up for re-election in May, and former Grant County Undersheriff Todd McKinley has filed to run for sheriff. McKinley, director of Grant County Community Corrections, said that he decided to run after witnessing the “audacity of individuals who think they can dictate the course of Grant County, without the input of all.” He pointed out that the oath of office states that he “would support the Constitution and the laws of the United States and of the state of Oregon, and to honestly and faithfully perform the duties imposed upon the member under the laws of Oregon. I do not remember that there were any clauses that told me this was optional, and up to my interpretation of the Constitution and laws.”
The peaceful life of the occupiers of federal property is a huge contrast to another occupation over 40 years ago. While the occupiers can come and go from the refuge whenever they want, shopping at local stores and eating at local restaurants, Leonard Peltier, leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has been imprisoned since the federal government’s armed raid on Indian land at Wounded Knee in 1973. Peltier was convicted on the word of Myrtle Poor Bear who retracted her statement 16 years ago, explaining that FBI agents had abused her to get the testimony. The FBI admitted that they didn’t know who was responsible for the deaths of two FBI agents, but Peltier is not scheduled to be released from prison until 2040 when he will be 96 years old.
Beatings, deprivation of medical care, inadequate nutrition, and a disregard for his failing health are causing Peltier to die a slow isolated death. A stroke left him almost blind in one eye, he can barely walk because of untreated bone spurs, and an ever-worsening jaw condition from a prison beating causes difficulty in eating. Peltier has had a heart attack, a severely inflamed prostate condition, and diabetes. Early this month he was diagnosed with a serious abdominal aortic aneurism requiring immediate surgery, but nothing has been done about it. White insurgents, several of them at Malheur, have never been charged for pulling guns on federal officials last year on Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada.
Bill Means, veteran of the Vietnam War and the standoff at Wounded Knee, said:
“The Feds didn’t serve us coffee and pizzas. They came heavily armed, ready to do battle, and opened fire before they asked the first question. The laws are recast and enforced in order to suppress any type of minority movement to shift all the power of recognition to the white community. So that when the posse comitatus or bunch of racist ranchers take over a piece of land, they do it in the name of their country, and they become immune to the criminal laws of the United States.”
Means remembered his experience in 1973:
“We were immediately surrounded by over 7 or 8 federal jurisdictions: FBI, U.S. marshals, U.S. Border Patrol, BIA police. I’m missing a few, but you can understand the type of response we get as Indian people.”
Native American activist Morningstar, a member of the Pit River Tribe that shares a boundary with the Paiute, also commented about the people whose land has been “occupied again by armed white people,” this time white ranchers and cattlemen. They claim “sovereignty” over land that has been inhabited by these tribes for thousands of years, calling themselves the “original caretakers of the land.” She is highly concerned about the occupation of the refuge that contains sacred burial grounds of their tribes’ ancient ancestors and extensive personal records about the community and its people.
“The Paiute have 420 members enrolled, half of whom live on and near the reservation. And so they have essentially taken over the bird refuge. The main concern right now is that there are over 4,000 artifacts. There are maps within the BLM offices. These are maps that are not disclosed to the public, and so we’re hearing stories now of the militia members, Bundy’s faction, you know, going through personnel files of the staff members there, many of which include tribal members. They have access to this classified material, and to the 4,000 artifacts.”
Morningstar also mourned the damage from driving large herds of cattle over sacred Indian land:
“[The occupiers] are contaminating our springs, our waterways, our creeks. They’re inside the rivers and stream ways. We’re having to do a lot of restoration work along the creek ways because we have cattle that are just pushing the soil and dirt into the water.”
Whenever unarmed black people are killed, conservatives are fond of saying, “If you don’t comply, you die.” They become enraged when President Obama trades prisoners with Iran. Yet the current conservative position is that the lawbreakers at the refuge should be given everything they want.