It had been two weeks since armed militants broke into buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, when a federal employee decided they had seen enough.
And like so many who get angry at a situation beyond their control, this employee took to the Internet.
“To vent a bit, the situation in Burns is [expletive],” wrote the Department of Interior employee in an email to fellow co-workers.
“We're forced to move out of our homes and out of our town, while the law enforcement folks take a passive approach. That's great for the FBI, and great for the administration, but how about my family living in temporary lodging in an "undisclosed location." How about my kids missing another week, or who knows how long, of school?”
OPB obtained the email from a federal government employee, and is not identifying the parties in order to protect both their safety and their jobs.
The email details a host of concerns about the employee’s children, safety, and property in Harney County. They are similar concerns that many have voiced in Burns. And 20 days into the occupation, those fears and frustrations have boiled up to the highest levels of state government.
“The residents of Harney County have been overlooked and underserved by federal official’s response thus far,” said Gov. Kate Brown at a press conference in Salem. “I have conveyed these very grave concerns directly to our leaders at the highest levels of our government.”
Brown said inaction by federal officials is costing Harney County and the state of Oregon $100,000 per week. To help pay those costs for law enforcement and other personnel, Brown told reporters she would seek appropriations from state lawmakers, with the expectation that federal lawmakers will eventually reimburse the state.
“Federal authorities must move quickly to end the occupation, and hold all of the wrong doers accountable,” Brown said. “This spectacle of lawlessness must end.”
While Gov. Brown amplifies the frustration felt by many in Harney County, there is concern among other western federal employees that similar occupations may occur elsewhere.
In an interview with OPB, the National Wildlife Refuge Chief of the Pacific Region, Kevin Foerster, said “all appropriate action” is being taken to ensure similar occupations don’t happen elsewhere.
“I think there’s always that type of possibility of that kind of copy cat thing,” said Foerster. “I think we always need to do lessons learned to ensure things like this don’t happen somewhere else.”
Yet, many, including former Department of Homeland Security Senior Intelligence Analyst Daryl Johnson, believe the most effective way to ensure order is maintained on federal property is to enforce federal law. Johnson tells OPB he’s “shocked” that the FBI hasn’t formed a perimeter around the compound to close militant’s access to reinforcements and supplies.
“Having this hands off attitude towards these extremists, I’m afraid is actually emboldening these people to do other things,” Johnson said. “Extremists who are watching this play out through the news, or through social media, are being inspired to resolve any grievances they have.”
The FBI did not return requests for comment.
That consistent absence of communication between federal investigators and the community is one of the major concerns in Burns, and among the federal employee who sent a frustrated message to coworkers.
“This isn't what we signed up for,” they wrote. “I'm going back to Burns if we don’t get some sort of announcement from the FBi [sic] on what they are going to do. I've got an empty house in the winter in harsh climate … does anyone in DC grasp that?”