Understanding Oregon Rancher Culture’s Concerns

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If, like those of us who contribute to this platform, you had been following the standoff mentioned in this article, and following the Bundys as a sidenote, this article is worth a read. The author Jennifer Percy gives full voice, as far as we can tell, to the concerns of the people from that region and specifically their opposition to all aspects of the federal government other than the military. The last three paragraphs of the article are particularly chilling but getting there is a worthy journey:

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The landscape of eastern Oregon has little in common with the state’s Pacific Coast. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

I took the eastern route from Idaho, on a day of freezing rain, over the Strawberry Mountains, into the broad John Day River Basin, in Oregon. I was used to empty places. Most of my childhood was spent in this region of eastern Oregon, in remote areas of the sagebrush desert or in the volcanic mountains with their jagged peaks and old-growth forests. My family moved away just before I entered high school, and I never returned; I’ve felt in romantic exile ever since. This part of America that had once belonged to my childhood became the spotlight of national news in the winter of 2016, when the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — an old childhood haunt — became the scene of a cowboy takeover. The takeover began as a protest in the town of Burns after two ranchers were sentenced to prison for arsons on federal land. The ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, caught the attention of the Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, who thought the punishment unfair. Bundy and a crowd of nearly 300 marchers paraded through Burns, and a splinter group eventually took over the Malheur headquarters. For 41 days, they refused to leave, protesting federal ownership of public lands, which they considered unlawful and abusive. I didn’t understand what had happened since I left, why so many people seemed so disillusioned and angry.

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Joe Cronin on his ranch in the Malheur National Forest, in October. Credit Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times

The ground was snow-covered when I visited John Day last winter and the temperature below freezing. I was there to attend a meeting organized by Jeanette Finicum, the widow of LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher who was shot and killed by government agents a year earlier. LaVoy was a leader of the Malheur occupation. He left the refuge for a speaking engagement in John Day with plans to return, but he was shot three times at an F.B.I. roadblock. For that reason, his widow was calling this event “The Meeting That NEVER Happened.”

The town of John Day isn’t much more than a two-lane road through end-of-frontier brick buildings and is barely two square miles in size. A “closed” sign hung from the Ranch and Rodeo Museum, and the only vacancy was at a motel called Dreamers Lodge. Just west of town, off the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, were the John Day fossil beds, where the remains of saber-toothed tigers and small horses were dug up from 30-million-year-old volcanic ash. To the east, replicas of covered wagons stood on the side of the road.

I pulled up next to a minivan in the parking lot of Americas Best Value Inn. Three women stepped out. The driver wore American flag earrings and a Christmas sweater, her hair piled on her head. She was a candy-company representative in Boise and had driven to John Day with a trunk full of Mentos. “What’s going on with the media is absolute crap,” the driver said. We walked down the street, to the Outpost restaurant, and over lunch, she described what was happening in eastern Oregon as a “truth insurrection.” One of her companions, a delicate, elderly lady with long white hair, told me that she attended protests during the federal siege at Ruby Ridge, followed the killings at Waco and took an interest in the Bundys during the occupation. All three believed the government could come to their homes anytime and shoot them. “Someone please needs to get this story right,” the elderly lady said. When I showed her my tape recorder, she gave me a high five. She figured I couldn’t twist her words now. “Sometimes it happens,” she said. “The truth will end up in The New York Times. But your editors will probably mess it up.” I asked what truth she had in mind. “Well, for one thing,” she said, “LaVoy was not ‘killed’; he was ‘murdered.’ ”

The meeting was up the road at the Grant County Fairgrounds, in a building called the Trowbridge Pavilion, where every summer local residents gathered to show prizewinning livestock. The parking lot was crowded with pickup trucks mounted with Don’t Tread on Me flags and decorated in stickers that read, “LaVoy” or “Not Guilty.” The crowd was all white, a mix of ranchers, farmers, loggers, miners, firefighters and hard-right Mormons from Idaho, Utah and Arizona. There were as many women as men, lots of families and children. People wore T-shirts that read #libertyrevolution. A few dozen self-proclaimed militia members, mostly representatives from the Oath Keepers and the Oregon Three Percenters, were there, as well as members of the Finicum family and the Bundy family. I recognized occupiers from their mug shots. A few people carried guns to show their support of the Second Amendment. Many had traveled from out of state, and some had driven through the night, on bad roads and through dangerous weather, and spent money on hotels and food they could not really afford, they said. Why? They told me their livelihood was at stake…

Read the whole article here.

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