The group “occupying” the land has since made claims that the community supports their efforts, despite disagreements from community leaders.
BURNS, Ore. — Hundreds of locals from Harney County, Oregon, packed a fairgrounds building on a freezing Wednesday evening to urge armed militants occupying a federal building to go home.
But even though the attendees disagreed with the occupiers’ aggressive tactics, some said they were grateful to them for drawing attention to the community’s economic struggles.
“Let’s just knock this crap off and go back to being friends and neighbors,” said lifelong resident Jesse Svejcar. He said he disagreed with the protesters, but added: “I will thank them, if nothing else, they gave a lot of good people in this county a voice.”
The meeting, hosted by Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, opened with a prayer. The sheriff walked to the front of the room to resounding applause, with some boos in the back. He told the crowd that his deputies had been followed home, and his parents were tailed. He said someone flattened a tire on his wife’s car, and she had left town due to stress.
“When I wake up tomorrow, I want to have pleasant thoughts about you — that you did the right thing, that you packed your bags and you went home,” Ward said of the anti-government protesters.
The militants, led by the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, have been holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, about 30 miles from Burns, since Saturday.
“They are desecrating one of our sacred traditional cultural properties,” Charlotte Rodrique, chair of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council, said at an earlier meeting on Wednesday. “They are endangering our children and the safety of our community.”
The occupiers claim the federal land belongs to the mostly white population of eastern Oregon, but Harney County was largely Paiute territory prior to white settlement.
Ward asked people at Wednesday night’s meeting to raise their hands if they wanted the occupiers to peacefully leave. The vast majority did, with a rogue shout of “Let them stay!” Some attendees asked the sheriff to personally pass the message to the occupiers.
“I heard a rancher come in today and say, ‘We’ll send a hundred guys on horseback,'” said one man.
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