Now Playing:


Land | Land use | local | Politics | Nation | News | An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

How A Digital Friendship Created An Unlikely Holdout

David Fry, a 27-year-old from Ohio, was one of the last remaining occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He surrendered Feb. 11.

David Fry, a 27-year-old from Ohio, was one of the last remaining occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He surrendered Feb. 11.

Amanda Peacher/OPB

David Fry’s online friendship with militant LaVoy Finicum led him to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where he is one of the last remaining occupants.

Ten days into the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, David Fry was looking forward to going home. Shunned by the alpha-male militant leaders in the camp, Fry — a skinny, bespectacled 27-year-old from Ohio — was waiting to talk to one person before he left.

“I want to say goodbye to LaVoy, but then I have to go home,” Fry told OPB the afternoon of Jan. 14. “I think I make some of the guys nervous here because of the bad things people are saying about me.”

Those “bad things” included criticism that Fry supported the radical terrorist group ISIS and had repeatedly praised Adolph Hitler in long, anti-Semitic rants. OPB had just published an article about Fry hacking into the federally owned computers at the refuge, revealing those details and others.

Finicum, who had just returned to the refuge after meeting with elected leaders in Iron County, Utah, had yet to meet with Fry. But the militant leader did message Fry to stay put until he could talk with other members of the leadership.

Still, Fry expected to return to his rural home outside of Cincinnati that weekend.

“Before my dad gets back from his vacation,” Fry said.

Less than two weeks later, LaVoy Finicum would be shot dead on the side of a country road in deep snow, and David Fry would be one of the last militant holdouts on the compound.

With Blowups at Home, Fry Found a Soothing Voice Online

Online, Fry is quick to engage with anyone willing to listen, and even some of those who are not. A believer in vast conspiracies, especially those centered in his ancestral home of Japan, Fry comes off as bombastic, paranoid and angry. In defending his anti-Semitic posts, he wrote on his Google+ account, “ZIONIST JEWS ARE NOT TRUE JEWS!”

That angry, provocative and explosive tone is a major character of Fry’s personality, according to members of his family.

“He’s had his problems, some of which he’s brought on himself,” his paternal grandfather, William Fry, told OPB. “He gets pulled over for busted taillights, and instead of just rolling down his window and handing over his insurance, he screams at the officer, ‘What the [expletive] do you want?’ And right there, a regular thing turns into him in handcuffs.”

Fry’s anger, often directed at authority, resulted in a strained relationship with his own father, William “Bill” Fry Jr. A former Marine, Bill Fry told OPB he had a “tough time” talking to his son about a host of subjects — most notably, politics.

“We used to both be Tea Party guys,” Fry Jr. said. “But we would argue even about that. I would always say ‘ballots over bullets’ and he would get real mad, and we couldn’t talk. He believes it.”

David Fry was bullied in high school because of his Japanese heritage, according to his father.

“He was one of five people who wasn’t Caucasian at the school,” Bill Fry said. “With his brother being one of the other five.”

Yet, as David’s brother, Daniel Fry, went on to become a Marine like his father, David spent his time doing odd jobs at his father’s dental office, and getting in trouble for minor legal offenses.

“Dear America, here’s a letter I received from Pioneer Collections Agency telling me they want some money because I refused to pay some criminal court fines for smoking marijuana on a river and not wearing a life jacket,” Fry said in a YouTube video, where he shows himself burning the collections letter. “This is obviously tyranny. This is [expletive].”

Bill Fry said he “just couldn’t talk” to his son about those problems because David Fry “would blow up.”

Online, however, David Fry found an older, male ear to bend in Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. The Arizona rancher had become a supporter and close confidant of the Bundy family in 2014 after Finicum came to the Bundy ranch in April, during the family’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. During that time, Finicum began posting videos on YouTube and long screeds in militia chat rooms. Fry casually commented on those videos and posts, and shortly the two began a digital correspondence.

That connection turned into a friendship after Fry helped Finicum self-publish his book, Only by Blood and Suffering, a post-apocalyptic novel set in the western desert.

“He talked about LaVoy a lot, you know, on the computer, and even on the phone,” Fry Jr. said. “They were friends. I’m not sure how good, but before he left [for Oregon], and I think if LaVoy wasn’t there, [David] wouldn’t have left.”

Bill Fry said the last conversation he ever had with his son, he tried to talk him out of leaving for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

“And like we always do … we just blew up at each other,” Fry Jr. said. “We were leaving for Costa Rica and I tried my damnedest to talk him out of doing it. I told him, ‘You get around a bunch of people — one person acts stupid, the whole thing goes to hell.’ But he would tell me, ‘They did it once before, and they settled it peacefully.’”

“Unfortunately, it’s not going to be peaceful for LaVoy,” Fry Jr. said.

The two haven’t talked directly since then, although David Fry said he called while his dad was on vacation.

“I’d like to have him home,” Fry Jr. said, crying. “I served 20 years in the Marines, and I want to drive over there, pick him up, and take him home. But it’s not about me, and I don’t think that would help. It’s about his belief. He believes it.”

A Rejected Holdout Finds Friends in the Remainders

On Jan. 14, LaVoy Finicum, as he was known to do, made peace in the camp between leaders Ryan Payne, Blaine Cooper, Jon Ritzheimer and David Fry. The leaders, particularly Payne, were upset about Fry’s online support of ISIS and the resulting media coverage, according to Finicum.

Payne had served in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq.

“It took some talking, but everything’s fine now,” Finicum told OPB on Jan. 16. “Sometimes you got to talk things out.”

Yet, even after the issues were smoothed over, the rest of the militant group did not accept Fry. Instead of going home, he spent his time in a building next to the main compound, working on the militants now-defunct website,

OPB reporters had a daily presence at the refuge until the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 27. Despite numerous interactions with Fry, he was not observed talking with other militants on the compound.

Even in the immediate hours after the arrests of the group’s leaders and the death of Finicum, when fewer than 12 militants remained, Fry was not considered to be part of the larger group.

“I don’t know anything about him,” militant Jason Patrick said at approximately 4 a.m. Jan. 27. “I think he’s just gawking. He’s not going to help us when the FBI rolls in.”

But Fry stayed, along with husband and wife Sean and Sandy Anderson, and Jeff Banta, even after Patrick turned himself in; even after Ammon Bundy pleaded to him to leave.

“This was never meant to be an armed standoff,” Bundy told the group in a video obtained by OPB.

Fry rejected that plea and in an online video suggested Bundy was being forced to give that statement by federal authorities.

His refusal has frustrated Bundy’s attorney, who is desperately trying to get bail for Ammon Bundy, along with militant supporters.

The Citizens for Constitutional Freedom Support Group Facebook page, created to support Ammon Bundy’s cause, called on other supporters to stop praising David Fry for staying. The post has since been deleted.

“Yesterday, as the FBI began its siege, [Fry] kept following around real militia,” the post read. “Several of them told him to go away…David refused, so they kicked him out of the vehicle on the side of the road.”

That means when the militants had the chance to take him with them, to effectively get him off the refuge, they instead threw him out of the car. Now, some of those same militants are urging him to leave, so they can be bailed out of jail.

Fry, meanwhile, is as defiant as ever.

“I will stay here to the end,” he said, after hearing Ammon Bundy’s plea for the remaining occupiers to surrender.

More News

More OPB