With each passing day, more gun-toting people arrive

Weirdly sympathetic reporting in the Chicago Tribune on the armed criminals at Malheur.

Several dozen armed men and women now control this federal facility in remote southeastern Oregon, a growing siege staged to protest the imprisonment of two local ranchers and a federal government that they say is out of control. They spend their days concocting strategies, meeting with reporters and well-wishers, and organizing mundane chore charts, all while remaining on hair-trigger alert to any effort to infiltrate their ranks or forcibly end the occupation.

On stolen property, using stolen equipment, with the use of lethal weapons. The Trib almost sounds as if the government has no right to evict the armed criminals who are trying to steal the Refuge.

There is no visible law enforcement presence for miles; the occupiers are free to come and go as they please. Still, the group’s members are certain that their movements and communications are being monitored by police and the FBI. They listen for drones, stare down passing vehicles and keep a 360-degree watch from a 150-foot observation tower adjacent to the compound. They are on guard.

They’re also violent criminals. They’re not the victims here.

On this day, the threat quickly dissipates. “All stations be advised the provocateur is driven off,” a voice crackles over a hand-held radio a few minutes after the commotion in the kitchen.

But it’s a brittle peace. LaVoy Finicum, a 54-year-old Arizona rancher and one of the group’s leaders, says the siege will continue until the federal government cedes control of the 187,000-acre refuge to Harney County.

“It needs to be very clear that these buildings will never, ever return to the federal government,” says Finicum, who wears a cowboy hat and a Colt 45 pistol holstered on his hip.

As he continues to live in and use a federal facility that belongs to all of us, not to him and his armed buddies.

Ammon Bundy sits at a desk in a refuge administrative office. A documentary crew working on a film about Western land use is peppering him with questions. He is soft-spoken, articulate, impassioned and certain of his positions.

After the crew leaves, he admits that he is tired. Asked if he wishes things had unfolded differently, he sits up and leans forward.

“Everything is happening just like it’s supposed to,” he says. “That’s what you have when you have divine guidance that is assisting. The right people come. The right words are said.”

Now the Trib tells us something I didn’t realize, which is that the feds are not only not evicting the thieves, they’re not stopping new ones joining the theft.

With each passing day, more gun-toting people arrive, from Alabama, Utah, North Carolina, Georgia. The vast majority are white men, but others are coming, too.

A woman from California, who would identify herself only as a mom, said she came to be on the right side of history.

And Brendan Dowd, who is black, drove from Colorado Springs to “fight against all the negative things the federal government is doing.” Dowd, 31, said it was “time for the people to stand up and take control.”

I won’t even try to deal with all the ironies of that.

But anyway – what in hell is everyone doing, letting more armed people join in? I get that they don’t want a bloodbath and martyrs and another Timothy McVeigh, but they could surely close the fucking road.

For now, the protesters remain firmly in place. The FBI has established a command center in Burns at the small city-owned airport outside of the town center, but law enforcement continues to maintain a low profile. And a resolution feels very far away.

On Thursday, a supporter drove to the refuge from neighboring Nevada to drop off 180 pounds of frozen meat. The occupiers are hunkering down, ready for whatever.

Near the refuge entrance, Corey Lequieu sits on an ATV with an AR-15 rifle slung across his lap.

The 45-year-old Army veteran from Nevada has just finished a four-hour shift in the observation tower. If the feds come, he says, he’ll be ready.

“What’s the worst they can do – kill me?”

Back in Burns, a clerk at one of the town’s few motels said the FBI has booked rooms through March.

Are we a failed state?

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