Members of the armed group occupying the refuge near Burns traveled north to John Day Tuesday.
Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer said three members of the group came here and asked him to travel to Harney County to support their cause, but he refused to do so without the local sheriff’s approval.
Palmer said he was invited to lunch at a local restaurant, but he was unaware members of the group would be there. He said “a few” other Grant County residents attended the meeting as well.
“I had no idea who I was meeting with when we had lunch yesterday,” he said. “I walked in, I realized who they were and I sat and listened to them. ... They actually wanted me to come down there and make a stand, and I said, ‘not without the sheriff’s blessing.’”
Palmer said he has spoken to Harney County Sheriff David Ward and told him he would not interfere without permission. Palmer said he has “a pretty good working relationship” with the sheriff from the neighboring county. He said, however, he was not willing to do the only thing Ward would allow.
“About the only thing he really told me is I’m welcome to come down there if I would shame and humiliate them into giving up, and I said, ‘No, I won’t do that,’” Palmer said. “I’m not in the business of denouncing or shaming or humiliating anybody.”
Ward could not be reached for comment by press time.
The armed group has expressed outrage over federal land management. They took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns Jan. 2 after a rally supporting Steven and Dwight Hammond, who ranched near the refuge. The Hammonds were convicted of lighting fires that burned federal land and were recently re-sentenced to serve the full five years mandated by the laws under which they were charged. Some members of the armed group were involved in a previous standoff with authorities in Nevada over federal grazing fees.
Palmer has also expressed disappointment with certain federal land management policies, specifically U.S. Forest Service road closures in Grant County. He deputized a group of residents to create a new county natural resources plan in hopes of providing the local government more leverage when working with federal agencies. Although the plan was not approved by the county governance, the Grant County Court, a resident has filed a petition to place the plan on the ballot for a county-wide vote.
Palmer said he did not know whether or not he supported the armed takeover of the government site. He described the occupiers as “Americans” and “patriots.”
“I think it’s brought some things to light that might not have otherwise got the attention that they did,” he said. “I do believe that the resolution and solution to the way this is going to be handled, if it’s handled properly, could have a long-lasting effect on our county as well.”
The two counties are quite similar, he said, in terms of agriculture, timber and natural resources. He said, if a positive outcome was achieved in Harney County, it would benefit Grant County.
Palmer said, however, he believed a positive outcome would require certain actions by the government.
“I believe the government is going to have to concede to something,” he said. “I don’t think these guys are going to give up without knowing that they’ve done something that benefits the people of our country or our region.”
Palmer said the members of the group did not discuss their future plans or what they would reveal at a community meeting they had planned for Friday.
Grant County Court Judge Scott Myers said the equivalent county government leader from Harney County, Steve Grasty, had contacted him warning that members of the armed group may have been traveling to Grant County.
Myers said he participated in an Association of Oregon Counties conference call with Grasty and leaders of most Eastern Oregon counties Wednesday, Jan. 13, discussing the possibility of the armed group migrating elsewhere.
“Grasty said that we should all be concerned about the likelihood of arrival (of the armed group) and the safety of our citizens,” Myers said. “My biggest concern would just be public safety. I don’t know that they would try to take over a building or anything like that.”
Myers said he has also had preliminary discussions with county Emergency Management Coordinator Ted Williams about ensuring safety around schools and neighborhoods in case something were to happen here. Myers said, although he did not expect a militia to invade and did not want people to panic, the county was taking steps to ensure everyone’s safety.
“I am concerned, but I don’t expect an occupation,” he said. “I don’t expect them to come and hold up (here), but there’s always that possibility.”