High Noon in Harney County: Twenty Days

High Noon in Harney County: Twenty Days

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischThe 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



High Noon in Harney County: Twenty Days — 7 Comments

  1. Beautifully and eloquently written. Thank you for expressing your opinion with such clarity and force. I have taken the liberty of including the essay in letters to my Senators and Congressman, citing you.

  2. The devastating simplicity of “nothing done nothing said” is exactly what I have been trying to convey in my own comments on the situation on various other platforms. I simply fail to understand why this is allowed to continue – it really should have been as simple as arresting anyone who tried to leave the “fort”, as it were. WHy is the illegal occupation of federal property permitted to continue with theperpetrators being allowed to come and go as they please? Thank you for this.

  3. Like most Oregonians, I find myself getting quite frustrated with the lack of action against these criminals. There can be no question that they are thumbing their noses at the Federal government and the people of Harney County.

    The problem is that these nutcases have established that they’re willing to use violence against those who oppose them.

    Given the right wing love of firearms, I think that everyone needs to give the Feds and the FBI a break on this. I’m no great fan of the FBI, but their experience in recent years is probably guiding them here. I’m particularly thinking about Ruby Ridge and Waco.

    The one thing I do think the Federal authorities could do is find a way to restrict their movement in and out of the refuge.

  4. From what I’ve read elsewhere, the occupiers *want* a confrontation, so they can become martyrs and bring other like-minded people to their cause. Also, and more importantly, they have children in there.

    Frustrating as it is to all those affected, the hands off approach is surely the best option, along with the ammunition of ridicule.

  5. I agree with Ursula, there are other options between doing nothing and shedding blood. Doing nothing, in this case, has serious drawbacks including emboldening copycats everywhere. I also think it is time for people who care about the refuge to look at creative avenues of direct action.

  6. The Bundy clan are a bunch of pathetic losers and moochers with their greasy hands in the pockets of every rancher who rightfully pays their grazing fees for running cattle on land owned by us all. The clan members are not patriots, they are wanna-be cowboy movie stars. Give an idiot a loaded weapon and “tough guy” oozes from every pore. As a gun owner and hunter who appreciates access to public FEDERAL lands, I am sickened by these guys who present yet another reason for me to reject NRA-esque politics. They are an insult to those of us related to true patriots who fought the British. They need to quit making comparisons of themselves to those REAL patriots. Plain and simple, the Bundy clan’s motive is greed. Like self-centered schoolboys, they want it (in this case, land) all for THEIR chosen uses. The rest of us be damned because obviously we are not as important as someone who owns cattle or a mining operation. Their brand of superiority, egotism, narcissism, and self-righteous entitlement is wearing thin out west to many of us who have lived our entire lives here. More and more of us don’t buy this cowboy bravado BS perpetuated for years by Hollywood, some country music, and people like the Bundy clan.

  7. I could not agree more with the original post and the comments. Right-wing morons [I think the word is appropriate] are dealt with far too leniently, possibly because their rhetoric and on-camera stunts intimidate [as they are intended to]. The NRA’s entrenched opposition to minimal gun control, the Tea Partiers’ mindless opposition to necessary taxation, the hate-speech by Mr Trump and many other examples demonstrate a lack of even-handed enforcement of both laws and civic responsibilities. The endemic barrage of anti-Obama [our elected President] and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim forwarded hate e-mails is another attempt to intimidate those who truly believe in tradiional American values. It is past time for moderates and pragmatists to stand up and demand decent and efficient and responsible action from government at all levels; that is too much to expect from most corporations, so their their corrupt purchasing of political power should also be curtailed. Reform would be preferable to revolution.