There was tension in the air. You could practically cut it with a knife. The 300 seats in the John Day, Oregon, senior center on Saturday were full and still people were coming in. They wanted to hear southern Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy explain why he and others were occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in a protest over the jailing of Oregon rancher Dwight Hammond and his son Steven.
It was past time for the event to start and arguments were heating up between those who supported the occupiers and those who didn’t. Slowly information drifted in. There had been a problem. The two-car caravan headed to John Day on U.S. Highway 395 had been stopped. Ammon was arrested. The second car had skirted the roadblock but was stuck in the snow at a second roadblock. Another leader of the occupation, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, had been fatally shot by Oregon state troopers as he moved away from his vehicle with his hands in the air, and Ammon’s brother Ryan was wounded.
John Day lumberman Tad Haupt, who had set up the meeting that night a year ago, called it off, but he didn’t give up his idea of getting information to the public about problems with how federal agencies conduct their business in the west.
Haupt saw some 500 people from throughout the West crowd into the Grant County fairgrounds pavilion in John Day to hear speakers give their messages to the public. They were introduced by Kansas cattleman Trent Loos and included Jeanette Finicum, whose slain husband has become a martyr to the cause of curbing federal government overreach that now impacts huge portions of the west, including nearly 90 percent of Nevada.
I had gone to Burns, Ore., on Jan. 2, 2016, with Fallon resident Kenneth Greenwell to join a rally in support of the Hammonds. Some of the protestors in that rally later in the day moved on to occupy the refuge at Malheur.
When I heard about the meeting Saturday, Haupt called it “The Meeting that Never Happened with LaVoy Finicum.” I thought I should go to honor the memory of LaVoy Finicum, show respect for Jeanette Finicum and express solidarity with all people who see things they know are not right and hope to change. It didn’t take much to get Kenny to go along, and when I mentioned the trip to Bill Tarbell of Sparks, he wanted to go, too. It was an 850-mile round-trip journey but worth every minute of it.
There was no tension this time. Everyone was there for the same reasons we were except probably for the few federal employees who were there to see what was occurring.
The speakers were on point, informative and enthusiastic: Radio personality Kate Dalley spoke about problems in believing the media; author Bill Norton spoke on property rights; attorney Garrett Smith pointed out the importance of recognizing sheriffs as the senior law enforcement officials in their districts; one of Jeanette Finicum’s attorneys, Morgan Philpot, in an update on matters relative to a legal case being planned mentioned that a data leak from the Oregon governor’s office indicated the administration knew about the plan to ambush LaVoy and may have been involved, and the keynote speaker, attorney and former prosecutor KrisAnne Hall, gave an impassioned lesson on the Constitution and how the founders who so cleverly crafted it would be disappointed in how it has been abused. And when Jeanette Finicum took the microphone, we could feel the love in the room. She eulogized her husband of 23 years, augmenting her message with video clips of him telling how he loved his country, his God, his work on the ranch and especially his family. To cap it off, she introduced her children, their spouses and her grandchildren. Fourteen of them were present.
Also present was Carole Bundy, whose husband, Cliven and their sons are in jail awaiting trial scheduled for this month for repulsing an invasion of their ranch by federal agents and contract wranglers two years ago.
The event was live-streamed on Facebook and it was reported that viewers in 43 states and one foreign country (Australia) posted comments.
Jim Falk is a member and officer of the Fallon Tea Party.