Frustration and tension in Harney County, Oregon, over the continuing occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was palpable at a Tuesday night meeting with occupiers, residents and elected officials, KTVZ reports.
The meeting was held at Burns High School, and the appearance of militia leader Ammon Bundy and other occupiers took attendees by surprise. Residents took it as a chance to vent their anger at the militant group for their ongoing disruption of daily life in the area.
The group took over the refuge on January 2 in what they claim is a protest over federal government overreach. They are angry over prison sentences given to Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were convicted of setting fire to federal lands.
Resident Isabelle Fleuraud pointed out that mandatory minimum sentencing wasn’t “invented for the Hammonds a few years ago.”
“It has been around for 20 years and it was the Republicans who put them in place,” she said. “For 20 years mostly inner-city, poor, minority men have been unjustly jailed for endless sentences… The Hammonds committed the crime, and they got the sentence that was appropriate for that crime. And it is very sad, but it is sad for everybody in America who has an unfair sentence. Not just the Hammonds.”
She then accused the group of “invading” the community and said they should leave and “go to jail where you deserve to be.”
Another woman also begged the group to leave and pointed out the community can stand up for itself if it feels it needs to.
“You know, we have voices. We have feet. We can take care of it,” she said. “I can’t thank you for the disruption to our county, to my home, to people who are stressed out… It’s stress because this is our home. We love it, or we wouldn’t be here. We just want you to give it back to us.”
She then urged anyone who doesn’t like what elected officials are doing to run for office.
At one point, militant Pete Santilli made an obscene gesture while one female resident was speaking.
According to Oregon Public Radio, many of the resident spoke emotionally about how the occupation has divided the community. Some said they lost friends over differing opinions about it.
“Mr. Bundy, I agree with you 100 percent, we have way too much government,” Ed Brown told the group. “But the same hand, get the hell out of my yard. Look what you did to this county.”
At one point, the crowd erupted in applause when Harney County judge Steve Grasty approached the group and addressed Ammon Bundy directly.
“It is time for you to go home,” he said. At the end of the meeting, Grasty urged Bundy to leave peacefully, even offering to put him in his own pick-up truck and drive him wherever he wanted. “I don’t care if it’s Utah… Go home will you? We got families. We need to move on.”
At one point, audience members began chanting, “Go, go, go, go, go.”
Watch the comments at the at the public meeting, as posted to YouTube by Pete Santilli, here: