'Your Voice, Your Vote': The showdown at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
The way Ammon Bundy tells it he and his group have done all they can, have exhausted all their options to redress their grievances to the U.S. government, but they've been ignored, so now it's time to take an armed stand.
For three weeks Bundy, and perhaps three dozen armed protesters, have taken that stand at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon.
"The broken part is that the federal government does not have authority to come down into the states and control its land and resources," Bundy told KATU's Steve Dunn during a special edition of "Your Voice, Your Vote," which aired Sunday morning. (The entire show can be watched by clicking on the above "play" button.)
Dunn and a camera crew went to eastern Oregon last week to interview Bundy as well as Harney County Sheriff David Ward and county Judge Steven Grasty, both of whom want Bundy to leave.
Inside one of the buildings on the refuge and dressed in his trademark plaid shirt and cowboy hat Bundy repeated his claims that the federal government has overreached its authority in land-use policies and in the imprisonment of two Harney County ranchers - father and son - Dwight and Steven Hammond.
And while he says the federal government has unconstitutionally "come down into the states," he and most of his group have come from out of state. He says he's here to assist "the people in claiming back their rights."
Ward takes offense to such "help."
"This breaks my heart watching a community that I love and people that I respect being divided by a group of strangers, who have come in here and told us we're not intelligent enough to understand how to live our own lives," he told Dunn in a separate interview.
With the armed occupation on federal property entering its fourth week, there is little sign that it'll end soon. But last week, for the first known time, Bundy and an FBI negotiator spoke by phone while Bundy stood outside the Burns Airport in the presence of reporters.
The next day Bundy and the FBI negotiator were to speak again, but the FBI wanted to talk in private. Bundy wanted the press present. When he was denied his request, Bundy decided against the meeting.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown expressed her frustration with the apparent slow pace of federal authorities to end the armed occupation in her state and blasted them in a news conference intended to explain her priorities for next month's legislative session. Then she wrote letters to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey requesting that federal authorities end the "unlawful occupation as safely and quickly as possible."
Bundy has said he and his group would leave if the community asked them to. At several community meetings, the majority in attendance has indicated that very thing.
At one of those community meetings last week, which was attended by hundreds, Bundy and his group showed up. Bundy sat in the bleachers of the high school gym and Grasty, the county judge, strode over to the base of the bleacher where Bundy sat and bluntly told him: "It is time for you to go home." The crowd cheered.
Despite the community expressing its desire for him to leave, Bundy told Dunn he believes he has the community behind him; in fact, the support for the occupation is growing, he said.
"The people are saying, don't leave until we have these things right - don't leave because we have a chance now to get those (wrongs) straightened out," he said.
Ward, the county sheriff, doesn't buy it.
"Regardless of what these folks have said would guide them on a path toward their homes, they've recanted that," he told Dunn. "I think there may be a handful of people on that side of the fence (Bundy's), but what I see in my community is the majority of the people asking him to go home."
Then there is the matter of the guns. Grasty acknowledged there are a lot of them in Harney County, including his own, the protesters', law enforcements' and the county citizens'. During an interview, he told Dunn he was worried things could go badly.
"Somebody will do something stupid," he said about his fears.
But he said "if it goes south, it'll go south because Mr. Bundy or his friends started something."
Bundy said his group has no intention of using their weapons, "but we have them, and we're willing to stand with them in our own defense as we exercise our rights, and as we restore our rights back to our brothers and sisters."
When all is said and done, Ward said it will be a long process of healing for the community, but he is confident that it will happen.
"This community is full of people with morals and integrity," he said. "This community has worked through other tough situations. It's going to take some time to heal some wounds. I think people are going to have to get off social media and sit down over a cup of coffee with their neighbor and talk to them face to face and work through their differences."
Watch the full "Your Voice, Your Vote" show by clicking on the video at the top of this story.