High Noon in Harney County: Twenty Days
by Ursula K. Le Guin
The FBI and other Federal agents have been in Burns, Oregon, for twenty days now, watching a crime being committed by armed lawbreakers. Today they invited Ammon Bundy, the chief lawbreaker, to a polite conversation with one of their agents, after which he was politely sent back to continue committing the crime.
They talk to him. To us they say nothing.
Twenty days of an armed, illegal, openly destructive take-over of a national property, the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and its headquarters: nothing done, nothing said.
Twenty days of holding the communities of Burns, Crane, Diamond, Frenchglen and all the isolated ranches of the area under siege and continuous threat: nothing done, nothing said.
Twenty days of domestic terrorism, financially disastrous to a struggling local economy and causing disastrous division within the local community: nothing done, nothing said.
The wish to avoid a bloody fiasco like Waco is clear, and wise.
But there are many options open to the government short of rushing in with massive weaponry to “take them out.” Why not arrest so-called “militiamen” who leave the Refuge to harass high-school students or buy snacks at the Safeway in Burns? What about a visit to freeloader Cliven Bundy, father of two of the men infesting the Refuge, who defied the Feds a few years ago and now sits at home in Nevada enjoying the million or so dollars he owes me and all other American citizens in unpaid fees for grazing his cattle on our public lands?
The longer the list of such unpunished crimes grows, the longer the federal agents tolerate armed defiance of the rule of law, the harder it is not to see their inaction and silence as impotence and cowardice.
The people of Harney County prefer their independence to outside interference, and would like to handle this situation by themselves. But the longer the siege is allowed to continue, the more impossible that becomes, and the greater is the Federal government’s responsibility for the rapidly increasing economic and moral damage.
As for us across the country, who watch this apparent comedy — a couple of hundred bigoted loons paralyzing the Government of the United States — and begin to see how much long-term tragedy must result, what do we do?
I can only suggest that we let the people of Harney County know that we support them, that we admire their restraint and decency under great stress, and applaud their sheriff and their town meetings for the steady, courageous effort to let everybody have a voice.
One good thing about this very bad situation — it allows us to see a small, remote community of our hard-working, law-abiding fellow citizens remind the rest of us how to be a democracy.
22 January 2016