Now Playing:

News

News | An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

Gov. Brown Appeals To Obama For Resolution To Malheur Occupation


A man gets into a truck at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. The group that has been occupying the refuge since Jan. 2 has been calling it the Harney county Resource Center.

A man gets into a truck at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. The group that has been occupying the refuge since Jan. 2 has been calling it the Harney county Resource Center.

Keith Ridler/AP

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is frustrated about the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, according to two letters obtained by OPB.

In a letter sent to President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Brown stressed her frustration and asked for help in convincing federal authorities to bring the nearly three week long occupation to a swift resolution.

“I conveyed the harm that is being done to the citizens of Harney County by the occupation, and the necessity that this unlawful occupation end peacefully and without further delay from federal law enforcement,” she wrote of an earlier conversation with FBI Director James B. Comey. “On behalf of all Oregonians, I appreciate your consideration of our desire to see this situation come to a close, and I thank you for your timely attention to this matter.”

In a press conference Wednesday, Brown publicly aired her frustrations with how federal authorities have handled the occupation so far. The occupation has seen little action from federal authorities, with armed militants free to come and go as they please.

“The residents of Harney County have been overlooked and underserved by federal officials’ response thus far,” Brown said at the press conference. “I have conveyed these very grave concerns directly to our leaders at the highest levels of our government.”  

In a second letter Wednesday addressed to Comey and U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Brown outlined those conversations and referred to the occupants led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy as “armed radicals.”

“As you are both aware,” the governor wrote, “for more than two weeks now, these radicals have been allowed to stay unlawfully in the refuge approximately 30 miles to the south of Burns, Oregon, in Harney County. While it is easy to assume that an occupation in such a remote location does not threaten public safety and does not harm any victims, that perception is far from accurate.”

Brown described a community on edge, with more militants flocking to the refuge on a regular basis.

“What adds to the tensions felt by the community is the reality that multiple ‘supporters’ of these individuals have joined, staying in local motels in the City of Burns, and the criminals on the refuge are allowed to travel on and off the premises with little fear of law enforcement contact or interaction,” Brown wrote.

The FBI has been in Harney County since shortly after the occupation began Jan. 2, but has kept a low profile. Law enforcement officials have said they’ve taken a measured approach as a way to prevent bloodshed.

Brown argued in her letter to Lynch and Coney that because the occupation is on federal land, it is the federal authorities’ responsibility to lead law enforcement’s response to the occupation.

“For the citizens of Harney County and indeed all Oregonians, I must insist on a swift resolution to this matter. Efforts to negotiate have not been successful, and now it is unclear what steps, if any, federal authorities might take to bring this untenable situation to an end and restore normalcy to this community,” she wrote.

“I request on behalf of my fellow Oregonians that you instruct your agencies to end the unlawful occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as safely and quickly as possible.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of FBI Director James. B. Comey’s name.

More News

More OPB