by Ursula K. Le Guin
In answer to a letter about the continuing occupation of the Malheur Refuge headquarters, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wrote me,
“Despite [the recent arrest of several militants], the armed takeover of the wildlife refuge is still ongoing, and it remains extremely taxing and damaging to the local community and to Harney County. Local leaders deserve tremendous credit for their ongoing management of this situation. The sheriff, county commissioner, and others in the community have worked hard to prevent these extremists from spreading their divisive ideology, to coordinate with federal and state officials, and to remind everyone that the community does best when we pursue collaborative solutions rather than conflict.”
What needs to be said, well said!
But it lacks a sense of urgency. Things are bad in Harney County and getting worse. Deeper damage is done every day the occupation continues to be tolerated.
Patience in a situation like this is all-important — the vigilant patience the lawmen showed in waiting for the Bundy brothers to leave the protection afforded them on the Refuge and in Burns. But patience must not become paralysis.
Is the extreme patience being shown to continued open defiance of the law partly a function of the remoteness of the place where it’s happening?
If a federal property in New Jersey was occupied by armed outsiders calling themselves “militiamen,” justifying their occupation by a radical theocratic re-interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and calling for mass resistance to law enforcement, would four of them be allowed to continue the occupation indefinitely?
If important ongoing scientific studies and reclamation programs under federal auspices in a suburb of Chicago or Washington were being paralyzed and trashed by four hooligans carrying guns, how long would they be allowed to continue the irreparable destruction?
As Senator Merkley says, the local people and their officials have shown their determination to resist all provocation to violence and allow all voices to speak, while steadfastly refusing to permit any further attacks on their property and freedom.
The outsiders cut fences, a despicable act in cattle country; the ranchers mended them. The citizens of Harney County aren’t fence cutters, they’re fence menders. They just want to get back to work. They deserve the chance.
How much patience can the rest of us demand of them? How long are four scofflaws wrapped in American flags to hold several thousand American citizens hostage? Another week? another month? How long, O FBI?