Residents want the armed occupation of the federal land to end
The ranchers and protesters who seized the federal refuge say they won't leave without a meeting
Behind the scenes are moments about sex toys, a cavalryman and a shofar
The showdown on the open range enters its third week between federal authorities and ranchers who seized this refuge, and there’s no sign yet that the modern Western drama will settle soon.
Several parties have now squared off: the ranchers and cowboys who laid siege to this federal land, the local lawmen, and the residents who say they’ve had enough of it all.
Here’s what to know about where things stand.
1. Locals: Bundys, go home!
Residents here enjoy their anonymity in the wide open spaces of the Northern Great Basin.
But they’ve had their fill of the standoff, led by Ammon Bundy, the son of anti-government Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who made his own headlines in 2014 in another faceoff with the federal government. A second son, Ryan, is beside his brother in the siege.
Residents want the confrontation to end and for the protesters in control of the refuge to go home.
They’ve even made T-shirts.
“Go Home Bundy,” says the back side.
The front side says: “G.T.F.O. #SaveTheRefuge.”
There was no polite explanation for what the initials meant.
Harney County resident Ashley Presley, 15, expressed the concern of many at a community meeting this past week. She struggled to speak through tears in addressing the assembly.
“I should not have to be scared in my hometown,” she told the crowd.
A rancher whose family has lived in Harney County since 1981 told the crowd that he agrees with much of the protesters’ anti-government sentiment, but he doesn’t agree with the armed occupation of the federal refuge.
The rancher thanked the Bundys for their courage, but he said it’s time for them and their partners to leave town.
So far, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said it’s up to the federal government to determine what should be done with the occupiers on the federal land. For the past two weeks, the feds have been biding their time on what to do.
2. Protesters: We’re not leaving!
What Ammon Bundy wants now is a meeting with community residents in a local venue.
But it’s just not safe, said Harney County Judge Steve Grasty. He told the group they cannot meet at the county fairgrounds as they had hoped to do or at any other county facility.
Bundy and his bunch often carry long guns – in cowboy attire.
Bundy persists in seeking on a community meeting to explain “why we are here and when we will be leaving,” he told CNN.
“There is a time to go home. We recognize that. We don’t feel it’s quite time yet,” he added.
A spokesman for Bundy and other protesters, LaVoy Finicum, won’t give details about whether this meeting will reveal an exact timetable for their departure or whether it will be a reiteration of their demands.
The Bundys and their crew demand that local father-and-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond be released from prison where they are serving a sentence for arson. The demands also include that the federal land be given back to local ranchers.
The most recent meeting was supposed to happen Friday night, but is now on hold.
What would the Bundys and other say at such a community meeting?
Finicum has only said that they have a nice PowerPoint presentation ready.
They hope to find a venue for the meeting by Monday.
3. Shades of frontier justice?
The protesters, which is to say the armed occupiers of the federal land, assert that within a week, they will be summoning a common-law jury and a common-law trial under the direction of a man they say is a common-law judge named Bruce Doucette who has traveled in from Colorado.
Doucette is now around town, meeting with ranchers from Oregon. He gives them advice and asserts that the protesters have done nothing illegal.
At one point, he was overheard explaining to some locals in a cafe that “democracy is a dictatorship that the government controls.”
This week at a press briefing, a man named Michael Emory introduced himself as Doucette’s press secretary, but he didn’t know how to spell Doucette’s name.
Emory says they plan to issue arrest warrants, but wouldn’t go into detail about what that would exactly look like and how it would go down and where those arrested would be held.
When asked whether this court would be legally binding, Emory said: “It’s the decision of the people of Harney County.”
He ended the press conference saying, “I’m just here to educate you about the law.”
None of the law authorities in the county have taken these claims about common law seriously.
4. Groundhog Day
For media covering the siege, every day feels like the previous day, beginning with a 35-mile drive to the refuge from the closest town, which is Burns.
The flatlands are a vast canvas of subtleties and solitude.
Snow covers the endless landscape, populated by grazing cattle, a few horses and every now and then a deer.
The protesters hold a daily briefing at 11 a.m. local time and update the media on the latest doings from their camp.
But most days, they passionately repeat why they won’t surrender their siege, and that they will leave when the Hammonds are freed and the government returns the land to the ranchers.
5. Moments: Sex toys, a cavalryman & a shofar
Yes, there can be boredom on the range.
But then come the moments that make for campfire storytelling.
Consider these three moments:
– The protesters have asked the community to send supplies to the refuge so they can stay as long as it takes.
A video was posted on Facebook by protester Jon Ritzheimer who says instead of supplies, people had been sending sex toys.
He doesn’t think that’s funny.
–Just before the daily press briefings outside the refuge, protester Dwayne Ehmer rides on horseback with Old Glory in hand and greets the media.
He couldn’t be a friendlier cavalryman and often comments to the media folks in bundled-up winter gear just how lovely is the winter.
When asked how he’s doing this morning, he states: “We’re just happy to be alive” and adds, “I’m not a terrorist.”
When asked where he sleeps, he says there are bunks in the compound, but he just sleeps outside next to his horse.
– Last Wednesday, the coldest and windiest day yet, protester Brand Thornton stood near the watchtower which is manned 24/7 by an armed protester, and he sounded a shofar that he bought in Israel.
A shofar is an instrument made from the horn of a ram or other kosher animal. The horn is most commonly thought of as part of Jewish tradition and is typically blown in a temple and used to announce that a Jewish holiday has begun.
For Thornton, though, the horn was a call to the Lord to intervene and to keep them all safe at the refuge.
CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt reported from Oregon, and Michael Martinez contributed from Los Angeles.