Friday, January 29, 2016

Burns, Oregon: Torn Apart by the Malheur Occupation

This story, from Julie Turkewitz, at the New York Times, takes a step back from the breaking news cycle, assessing the costs of the occupation on local residents. It's been harsh.

See, "Oregon Town Torn Apart by Protest at Wildlife Refuge":

The arguments that broke out in Harney County early on, shortly after the seizure of the Malheur refuge, feel almost quaint now, people said: Were the ideology and tactics of the occupiers valid? Many people supported the goals of the protesters — the return of federal lands to local or private control and the release from prison of two local ranchers convicted of arson for a fire that spread to public land — but disagreed with their illegal armed showdown.

As things dragged on, the questions and fears got darker — about whether the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies were doing the right thing and whether the nightmare sympathizers arriving in town — guns on their hips — should be seen as specters of intimidation or of comfort.

After this week’s events, the county has been thrown into kind of debate that was, until now, a headline from somewhere else like Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore: police violence. The F.B.I. released the video Thursday showing Oregon State Police troopers shooting Mr. Finicum, 54, after he tried to drive around a roadblock and reached for his gun. The state police hoped the release of the video would quell speculation and accusations that Mr. Finicum was gunned down with his hands up. But not everyone was satisfied, and many citizens who watched the video do not accept the F.B.I.’s account of what happened....

Linda Gainer, 63, runs a restaurant about six miles from the refuge. She is one of many people who say the occupation has torn her community apart. Ms. Gainer has fed nearly everyone involved with the standoff: occupiers, F.B.I. agents, journalists, visiting environmentalists and others, but has received criticism for permitting the occupiers to buy food from her cafe.

“People say that we’re unpatriotic, we’re terrorists,” she said.

“You shouldn’t go around and say nasty things about people just because you don’t agree on something,” she said.

Some residents are simply leaving, which does not bode well for a place that has long struggled with an eroding economy and population. For instance, the 17 employees of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were relocated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which received “nonspecific” threats about taking them hostage, said Jason Holm, a spokesman for the agency, which runs the refuge.

One Malheur employee, speaking anonymously to protect his safety, said he was living apart from his wife and young children. His family has lived in the area for decades, he said, but is considering moving on for good. “It makes us very angry,” he said.

The Harney County sheriff, Dave Ward, who has been a vocal opponent of the occupation, said the tires of his wife’s vehicle were slashed, prompting her to leave town. The authorities are investigating the matter; no arrests have been made.

Four of the area’s top public officials have resigned since the occupation: the county school superintendent, the principals of the county middle and high schools, and the head of the fire department. The fire chief, Chris Briels, is a supporter of the occupation, and resigned when other officials refused to allow the Bundy group to a host a meeting in town. The educators cited nonoccupational reasons for leaving, saying they wanted to spend more time with grandchildren or seek a position in a larger school...