At the beginning of Tuesday’s community meeting in Burns over the ongoing occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge, county Judge Steve Grasty said that his mission for the evening was to unify the community.
“I want our message to be, ‘How do we bring this place back together,” Grasty said.
But that mission was derailed when occupation leader Ammon Bundy and his supporters arrived midway through the gathering. The atmosphere in the high school gym became increasingly heated, with supporters and opponents of the militants occasionally shouting over each other.
Speakers from Harney County began directing comments to Bundy and the other occupiers.
Isabelle Fleuraud pointed at Bundy from across the bleachers. “You should just go home, and I hope somebody catches you on the way, and you go to jail where you deserve to be,” she said, her voice strained.
Bundy and the other occupiers sat quietly in the bleachers or stood in the back of the gym. At least a dozen sheriff’s deputies stood positioned around the gym, watching the scene with care.
Many speakers now addressing Ammon directly. “We prayed for your safety first,” says one woman. “But let us take control now.”— Amanda Peacher (@amandapeacher) January 20, 2016
Harney County resident Jason Ward stood up to tell county leaders he thought the Bundys need to stick around.
“Until you guys can come up with some plan of action for change, I would rather see these guys stay,” Ward said.
Many speakers also lamented how the occupation has stressed and divided the community. Some speakers teared up, and said they had lost friends over their positions on the occupation.
It’s def more tense at the mtg now that the militants are here. Ryan Bundy on one side of the gym, Ammon on the other. #Oregonstandoff— Amanda Peacher (@amandapeacher) January 20, 2016
Some residents asked to hear from Bundy, but Judge Grasty emphasized that the microphone was for Harney County residents only.
“Anyone that’s doing criminal activities is not welcome here,” Grasty said. He offered to give Bundy a ride anywhere he wanted out of Harney County, even to Utah.
Ed Brown said he’s flying the U.S. flag upside down outside his house, “because that’s a sign of distress, and we are in distress.”
Brown, too, addressed Ammon Bundy directly. “Mr. Bundy, I agree with you 100 percent, we have way too much government,” said Brown. “But the same hand, get the hell out of my yard. Look what you did to this county.”
Bundy and the other occupiers left quietly at the end of the meeting, walking past several sheriff’s deputies on the way to their trucks.
Grasty said that community meetings will take place weekly while the occupation continues.