Oregon’s elected officials on Wednesday praised the arrests of the leaders of the militant occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge while expressing hope that the armed takeover will soon be over.
Gov. Kate Brown and the state’s congressional and legislative officials said in interviews and statements that they were committed to helping Harney County recover from the disruptions and expense of dealing with the militants, who first took over refuge’s headquarters on Jan. 2.
“Please know I am doing everything in my power to restore normal life to Harney County,” Brown said in a statement. “My office will continue collaborating with law enforcement partners to resolve the situation quickly and safely and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
In a later interview Wednesday with OPB’s Chris Lehman, the governor said she has repeatedly told federal officials they need to bring the occupation to an end.
“My first priority was to make sure they understood the level of tension and the level of harassment and the level of intimidation happening in the community,” she said.
While there was general condemnation of the takeover, the elected officials did have their differences.
Brown and U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, all Democrats, focused on restoring law and order to Harney County. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican who represents eastern Oregon in Congress, said he agreed the occupation should end. But he also said that “widespread frustration will continue until people in rural America feel like they are being heard.”
Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, whose district includes Harney County, said it appeared that FBI and local law enforcement officers did what they could to minimize bloodshed. But, he said, “People don’t know what to think because they haven’t heard the facts yet.”
Merkley and Wyden met in the U.S. Capitol Tuesday with FBI Director James Comey just hours before Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five others were arrested while they were all driving from Burns to John Day for a community meeting. Aides said the two senators urged the FBI to act quickly to end the occupation.
“I am pleased that the FBI has listened to the concerns of the local community and responded to the illegal activity occurring in Harney County by outside extremists,” Merkley said in a statement. He made no mention of the one person fatally shot during the arrest while he commended state, local and federal officials “for their close coordination in working to address this crisis.”
Wyden said in a statement that it was “deeply unfortunate that these militants’ actions have resulted in violence,” and he commended the FBI for making the arrests.
“There was an immediate threat that the occupation in Harney County would spread to nearby communities,” Wyden added, “as outsiders sought to use Eastern Oregon to advance their extremist agenda.”
Brown told OPB that she would work on a “recovery plan” for Harney County residents, including for members of the Burns-Paiute Tribe, which has numerous artifacts stored at the refuge.
The governor has said she will urge the Legislature to reimburse Harney County for its costs of dealing with the occupation, which she has estimated at about $500,000 so far. She said she would also seek federal reimbursement since the occupation involves a federal refuge.
Bentz, the state representative, said he worried that the occupation could set back successful efforts by local officials to work more cooperatively with federal land managers. “The Bundys do not reflect the Harney County or Malheur County attitude toward government,” he said.
After confronting people who “show up with guns,” Bentz said, he worried that federal officials are “going to be even more cautious in how they approach things.”