Anti-Federalists In Oregon Continue To Hold Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The armed takeover of a wildlife reserve in Oregon has created an uncomfortable situation for federal authorities to say the least. They are reluctant to cause a confrontation, though President Obama says the government is closely monitoring the situation. So what is behind this occupation? Well, yesterday, the group's leader, Ammon Bundy, said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AMMON BUNDY: Our purpose as we have shown is to restore and defend the Constitution, that each person in this country can be protected by it and that prosperity can continue.
GREENE: Let's dig a little deeper here. We reached Les Zaitz, an investigative reporter for The Oregonian newspaper and also a rancher himself. He was in Burns, Ore., not far from the occupied land.
LES ZAITZ: This is really the heart of cattle country in the high desert of southeast Oregon. This is a very small population in a huge territory. We're talking about 7,000 people scattered over 10,000 square miles.
GREENE: So we're talking real rural America here.
ZAITZ: Yes, yes, we're a long way from anywhere.
GREENE: When this all erupted, did this surprise you?
ZAITZ: Yes, it did surprise me because the militia that were in town in recent days had several meetings with the members of the local community, and they vowed over and over and over again that while they were making their protest and they were asserting the constitutional rights that they intended to be peaceful, even though they kept showing up to the meetings with handguns strapped onto their hips. And then at the protest rally on Saturday, which was really the high point for them, it was well-organized. People were advised to obey the law. There was - the march of about 300 people went on for an hour. And it was largely just people quietly shuffling along the street. There was no sign of militancy at all.
GREENE: You know, certainly many of the people who were at that protest and, you know, were out there sort of letting their voices be heard, they are not occupying a building. But does this represent some larger sentiment? Like, where is this anger coming from?
ZAITZ: Well, there is a broader anger in rural Oregon and probably in rural America, where people feel they have been left behind by the economic recovery. I mean, the timber industry in Oregon is significantly diminished. The cattle industry is under significant pressure. Changing in the management of federal lands, well, there's the Bureau of Land Management, or U.S. Forest Service has impeded a lot of economic activity. People feel that the federal government doesn't listen to them, is overbearing and overreaching. You know, I talked to Steve Grasty, the county court judge here in Harney County, and he said, you know, I understand that message. A lot of us, even those of us who serve in government, believe the government is overreaching. And so there is a really broad undercurrent of unhappiness with government and in Oregon and probably across the country.
GREENE: People who are feeling this frustration as you're describing it, are they seeing this self-described militia as heroes, or how are they reacting to all this?
ZAITZ: Well, I don't know that they're being considered by locals as heroes. I think people make a distinction between their message and their tactics. Either they support the message that perhaps the federal government is not complying with the principles behind the Constitution, but they are not very supportive of this tactic of seizing a public building and, you know, making schools close and federal governments close. They have really disrupted life in this little town. And so again, it's a distinction between the message and the method.
GREENE: Do you see a connection here to kind of the broader political landscape? I mean, we've been asking as we've been covering this story whether there's a connection, say, to, you know, Obamacare and this sort of feeling that that law has been an overreach and is a reaction to big government in a way.
ZAITZ: Well, to be honest with you, Dave, I've been too busy trying to cover this, I haven't had time to sit around in cafes and choose a political fad.
GREENE: Understood, I understand.
ZAITZ: Well, I have asked people, is the ascendance of Donald Trump somehow capturing this sense? And it's interesting in this country. Here, people really quickly distance their views and their concerns here from the Trump candidacy.
GREENE: What might that tell us about that part of Oregon if people aren't feeling a connection, feeling like Trump is sort of carrying this message for them?
ZAITZ: Well, I mean, this is - Harney County is a deeply Republican community, very conservative. You know, these are hard-working people who want to take care of themselves, their families and their community. They are not people who spend a lot of time, I don't think, you know, examining grand national political strategies. That was one of the few surprises I've encountered is I - in what little political plumbing I've done out here in Harney County.
GREENE: Political plumbing, I like that term. As you said, I know you're too busy to have many political conversations. You're probably too busy to have many conversations with journalists because you have to do your job, so I'll let you go, Les Zaitz.
ZAITZ: OK, good deal. Thanks very much.
GREENE: Thank you very much.
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