Oregon Standoff: Anger, Frustration Boil Over At Community Meeting
by Les Zaitz
BURNS – The divide among friends and neighbors over the refuge occupation boiled into the open here Tuesday night in a community meeting that crackled with emotion.
What residents have feared and only whispered about in recent days took center court at the Burns High School gymnasium.
In sometimes highly personal remarks, speaker after speaker vented anger – at public officials, at the federal government and at the man in the brown cowboy hat sitting high in the bleachers to take it all in – Ammon Bundy.
He and other armed militants on Jan. 2 seized the headquarters compound of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, situated 30 miles southeast of Burns. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
He sat on the second row from the top as County Judge Steve Grasty, microphone in hand, strode to the foot of that bleacher section.
“It is time for you to go home,” Grasty said to Bundy, vowing to meet with Bundy anytime, anyplace – outside of Harney County.
A chant then grew in the gymnasium: “Go, go, go, go, go.”
That was a message Bundy heard repeatedly through the evening, one he once vowed to heed. He sat expressionless, making no move to respond or to comment.
But the audience of perhaps 300 people had plenty to say, and it seemed the cork had come out of the county.
One woman said she appreciated the attention Bundy has brought to rural issues but told him, “Get the hell out of my county.”
Another man gestured at Bundy and gave him the same message.
“Are you happy you did this to our community?” he said.
Another woman, shaking in anger, called out Bundy for the fear he’s caused in local schools, which closed for a week after the occupation began. She yelled across the gym at him, telling him to leave and “go to jail where you deserve to be!”
At one point, someone yelled, “Let Ammon speak.” Another retorted: “He’s not from Harney County.”