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More Protesters Arrive In Oregon To Support Occupiers Of Wildlife Refuge


Though the leaders and most of the anti-government militants are now in custody, four are still holed-up at a wildlife refuge in rural Oregon. And even those few holdouts are fueling tension in the surrounding community, as NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Harney County, Ore.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The roads are still blocked leading to the refuge headquarters where the militants are. So about the closest you can get to them is an RV park called The Narrows. Inside the RV Park diner, Barbara Berg sits at the counter working her phone. She's from Nevada. She drove up here last week as soon as she heard that the feds had started arresting people.

BARBRA BERG: I wanted answers about what had just happened.

KASTE: She's one of a growing number of outsiders who've rushed to Harney County. They're sympathizers with the anti-federal cause. They've arrived over the past few days in a parade of pick-up trucks from around the region, some of them flying American flags and at least one a Confederate battle flag. It's alarmed some of the locals, though Berg doesn't believe it.

BERG: I really haven't talked to any locals that aren't supportive of them being here.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing, unintelligible).

KASTE: She may not have heard from any, but they're around, especially in the town of Burns, the county seat. On Sunday morning at the joint Episcopalian - Lutheran Church there was a prayer the said for the family of LaVoy Finicum. He's the militant who was shot dead by law enforcement last week.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing, unintelligible).

KASTE: But after the service, Pastor Matt Littau said, yes, there's definitely concern about this new wave of protesters who have come here partly in anger over Finicum's shooting.

MATT LITTAU: We feel unsafe with these people here because we don't know what kind of kooks are in their group, and how trigger-happy they are. We just don't know that.

KASTE: It's not that his congregation is of one mind politically - far from it. This month-long occupation has divided people.

LITTAU: We've had misunderstandings in our congregation, people get up and leave. It didn't happen this Sunday, but it did last Sunday.

KASTE: Over this?

LITTAU: Over this.

KASTE: The most visible illustration of the stress on this congregation is the church's front door. No one can go in that door anymore because it happens to face the Harney County Courthouse, which ever since all this started has become a 9/11-style security zone. There are closed streets, jersey barriers, chain-link fences and officers patrolling with semi-automatic weapons.

LITTAU: I feel, personally, like I've been occupied. I now know what it's like to be occupied by a foreign power, by an armed foreign power. I've got a taste for it now.

KASTE: Nobody in Burns likes all the security. But the argument now is whether the arrival of the new protesters will continue the need for all these precautions. The protesters say no. Even though some of them are armed, they insist that they're peaceful. And some of the locals take their side. Rancher Tom Davis says all of these pick-up trucks with out-of-state license plates shouldn't freak people out.

TOM DAVIS: Why would that make them nervous? You want to be nervous? Cross that line right there, and that guy with a gun will have that gun pointed at you.

KASTE: He's pointing at the security perimeter at the town's tiny airport, where the FBI set up its command center. It's stocked with heavy gear and weaponry. Davis and a few others came out here with a sign reading, FBI go home because the way they see it, this whole situation has just been a matter of government overreaction.

DAVIS: What's going to happen when this is over? Why did you guys bring so much might here? The only thing I can think of is to suppress our voice and to show other counties that if you stand up against the government, the government will squish you.

KASTE: The out-of-stater's who led the occupation of the refuge are in jail now. But for some of the people here, the deep suspicion about federal power lingers on. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Harney County, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
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