Armed Occupation In Oregon Continues With No End Game In Sight
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Here's a story that has fallen off the front pages, but remains unresolved. Militants in Oregon are settling into the federal wildlife refuge that they've occupied for nearly two weeks now. Local leaders are looking for an endgame. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Amanda Peacher has spent a lot of time at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and she joins us to talk about how this situation is reshaping life in the area. Welcome back to the show.
AMANDA PEACHER, BYLINE: Thank you. Glad to be here.
SHAPIRO: Let's start first with the occupiers. What are they doing day-to-day?
PEACHER: Well, they are moving freely within the complex of the refuge headquarters. They are having meetings. They say they're making plans for how to turn over the refuge lands to what they call the rightful owners. So they're actually looking for the title transfer records for when the federal government bought these lands from private property owners decades ago. On Tuesday, they did remove a fence between private property and the refuge so cattle could potentially move on to refuge lands. And other than that, they're cooking. They're eating. They made a point of cleaning up one of the buildings at the refuge yesterday so that they could demonstrate that they are being good stewards.
SHAPIRO: Sounds like the message is that they plan to be there for a while. What about the people in the nearby town of Burns? How are they responding to this big standoff?
PEACHER: Well, this standoff remains a topic of conversation at every dinner table, in every restaurant and bar that you visit. It's really affecting daily life here, especially because there are armed militants still moving about the community. I sense a lot of fatigue, even from the supporters of the occupiers who are local here. I did speak with a young woman named Frankie Gould. She was wearing a Save the Refuge T-shirt at a Monday community meeting, and I asked her what she thought of the occupiers.
FRANKIE GOULD: They're a bunch of thugs, if you ask me. I don't respect them. I don't like them being here, and I want them to get the hell out of my town so things can get back to normal.
SHAPIRO: Wow. That's strong language.
PEACHER: Yeah, absolutely. You hear that language or some variation of it from local officials, from state representatives to the mayor here, as well.
SHAPIRO: Well, in addition to the occupiers and the locals, you say there are other militants walking around the community. Who are these people - like, groups from Idaho, Washington, Oregon? What do they want?
PEACHER: Well, they've actually been on the scene since the beginning. They're called the Pacific Patriots Network. And, as you say, they're a variety of armed groups who say their goals are defending the Constitution and limiting the authority of government that they believe is too large. So they were the original organizers of the rally a couple weeks ago in support of the ranching father-son duo the Hammonds.
They say the refuge occupiers kind of hijacked that rally by taking over the refuge complex. That was not part of the plan. So now they see themselves as a buffer between the occupiers and law enforcement. They want the occupation to end, but they do share some of the goals of those occupiers. So, for example, they also want local control over the refuge lands and those lands turned over to Harney County and the Burns Paiute Tribe.
SHAPIRO: The Burns Paiute Tribe - the local Indian tribe - they also have a role to play in all of this. Tell us about their interest in the land.
PEACHER: Well, the Burns Paiute Tribe has been in this area for thousands of years. And they are very offended that this occupation is taking place and that the occupiers say that they want to turn over these lands to the rightful owners. Of course, that, in their minds, would actually be the Burns Paiute Tribe.
SHAPIRO: Amanda, how do you see all this ending?
PEACHER: Well, leaders of the occupation say they plan to hold a community meeting in Burns this Friday where they'll give more of a sense for when they might leave and also answer questions from community members. There's still no action from law enforcement, although there is a strong FBI presence in town. We don't have a sense for if law enforcement might act, so right now it's very much a wait-and-see.
SHAPIRO: That's Amanda Peacher of Oregon Public Broadcasting. Thanks, Amanda.
PEACHER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.