I call my site Seeking Redress for a reason. I believe that the founders of this country, the United States, intended for the people to have the authority to hold our government, both state and federal, accountable for its actions. We have the right, in fact the duty, as citizens, to petition our officials for redress of grievances. And our officials have the duty to respond to such petitions.
This morning, I received an email that contained the following letter, written by BJ Soper of the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard and the Pacific Patriots Network. He informed me that he has sent this letter and others out in 100+ emails to officials around the state, members of the FBI, Oregon Senators and Representatives, etc, and to date, he has received only one response.
Please read what Mr. Soper has written. His letter is a demand for action regarding legitimate grievances that our officials have a duty to respond to. It also offers a unique perspective on the events in Harney County. As someone who was there throughout most of the occupation of the Malheur Refuge, Mr. Soper witnessed firsthand the way the ‘stand off’ was handled, or mishandled rather. He is asking his officials for accountability.
So I ask of my Oregon officials, what will you do in response? Will you address these concerns? Will you hold accountable those who’s actions included harassment of Oregon citizens, sometimes at gunpoint? Those who allowed for an excessive response to the situation, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars? Those who set up a road block on a blind corner that resulted in a man being shot to death?
And I ask my fellow Oregonians, and my fellow Americans, what will you do in response? Will you just sit quietly by, or will you hold your officials accountable? Will you hold our media accountable? Please don’t wait until the next time, don’t wait until it happens to someone you hold dear, don’t wait until it happens to you.
A Letter to Oregon Senators and Representatives by BJ Soper
Senators and Representatives:
My name is BJ Soper. I am a Native Nevadan, but currently reside in Redmond, Oregon. I am a small business owner, husband, Father, brother and son to my family. I am also a founding member of the Pacific Patriots Network and I spent most of the last 41 days in Burns, Oregon working to try and find a peaceful solution to the refuge situation. I write you today to give a detailed commentary on what really happened in Burns, Oregon and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. I also want to take the time to give my views and voice my complete and utter disgust at how the issue was handled by all involved, at all levels.
First off, I want to let you know that I was the co-organizer of the rally held in Burns, Oregon, January 2nd, 2016 for the Hammond Family. For those of you that do not know their plight, A 74 year old Father and a 40 something year old son were sent BACK to prison for a second time on the same charge to serve out a mandatory sentence of 5 years for burning sagebrush. The Rally was phenomenal and had a much bigger turn out than I could have ever expected. The resulting decisions by a select few at the end of the rally will go down in history along with the likes of Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
When I had heard of the intent to occupy the refuge headquarters, I was angry. I had promised a community no violent actions would happen and that’s what I intended on doing. I had very angry people yelling at me while I held my 3 year old daughter in my arms and stood in front of my 16 year old daughter. The decision to occupy left me to answer to the community for their actions which I had no part of. I spent the better part of the next 3 days answering for their actions and trying to maintain some sense of peace in the community of Burns.
The Pacific Patriots Network established an operation to create a buffer between the law enforcement and the people in the refuge. Our concern was solely to not let another Waco, Texas happen. We decided to do all we could to offer support, be a visual witness, record and negotiate in any capacity available. We made it very clear that while we did not agree with the tactic to occupy a building, no one deserved to die over the issue. As the days past, my anger turned to concern for the people at the refuge. I watched a massive build up of force come into this little town. The airport was taken over and guarded at all times by FBI agents in full tactical gear and M-4 rifles. Vehicle after vehicle arrived and tents, satellite trucks, drones, and SWAT type vehicles piled in. At one point there were 7 bearcats parked at the airport with more out near the refuge. The 2 blocks surrounding the County courthouse was fenced off and guarded by law enforcement 24/7. It looked like a war zone in Burns, Oregon. Our group spent the better part of 2 weeks talking to the men guarding the entrances of these 2 locations. Our efforts were to try and humanize the situation in hopes to avoid a Waco or Ruby Ridge scenario again. We made very little progress. We offered any and all assistance. We offered ideas to help bring this to a close. We begged them to simply pick up the phone and have a conversation with the people at the headquarter buildings. It never happened and we got the same reply every time. Thanks for stopping by and we will pass it up the chain. Over and over, and over. We then proceeded to do to the same with the County Sheriff. Please pick up the phone. Please answer the questions of your community members, please try and communicate to the folks at the refuge. His answer? Over and over, and over. It’s not my investigation. Never were we allowed to talk to anyone in charge, and never were we taken up on our ability to help the situation. We had a line of communication OPEN with the people in the refuge. They were willing to talk and listen to what anyone had to say. The same can’t be said for the people in the FBI, County Sheriff’s office, or the State of Oregon.
As time continued, we used the same tactics and got nowhere. Yes, finally negotiators gave us a phone number to have access to a few, but the same story was told. “I will pass it up the chain”. Frustration on my part was setting in. Our efforts to assist were getting nowhere. PPN offered its buffer zone on a few occasions. We provided an over watch when Mr. Bundy came to town to visit with the agents at the airport to make sure both sides were safe. We also were available to help at the High School when tensions between the occupiers, citizens, and law enforcement grew during a public meeting.
On the evening of January 26th, I was back home in Redmond for a day or two and attending a high school basketball game where my Daughter was cheerleading. A call came from an FBI agent telling me that legal warrants were being served and asked us to not intervene. I had already heard of an issue and someone being shot on Hwy 395 outside of Burns and knew it was related. The agent also said that currently those still at the refuge were free to go. I hurried back to Burns that night to assess what was going on and had found out Mr. Lavoy Finicum, a rancher from Arizona had been the man shot and killed. I helped to secure Ms Victoria Sharp, the teenage eye witness. Ms. Sharp was dumped off in the Safeway parking lot at around 11PM with nothing but the clothes on her back. Ms. Sharp was separated from her family that was in John Day, Oregon, and knew not a soul in Burns. We picked her up, fed and consoled her. She told us an unbelievable story that I was not able to fully comprehend until I saw the video that was released from the shooting death of Lavoy Finicum. We felt it was important to get Ms. Sharp somewhere safe until she was reunited with her family. It turned out that Ms. Sharp was dumped by law enforcement about 20 minutes prior to the arrival of the investigative team from Deschutes County. That seems quite convenient. To this day, the investigators have not been able to get an eye witness statement from the person closest to what happened. Others that night and clear into the next morning, helped to escort people out of the refuge that wanted to leave. They arrived in vehicles, gathered their belongings and helped them get on the road back to their home, wherever that was. All but 10 or so left during that time.
In less than 24 hours after the shooting death of Lavoy Finicum, law enforcement cordoned off the refuge. Huge roadblocks were placed on State highways restricting people from getting through. That included anyone that may have lived in the area or not. When locals needed to get through, they were stopped, had their vehicles and persons searched at gunpoint, their vehicles driven through the checkpoint and sent on their way. There are many stories which I am personally investigating, because the local authorities refuse to respond. One such story where a woman and 3 children were pulled over 20 miles south of the refuge headquarters while on her way to work and school. The children were held at gunpoint in the vehicle and told to keep their hands on the roof of the car, while their Mother was told to march towards men with rifles pointed at her. She is so distraught over the interaction that she packed up and moved out of the area immediately for fear for her life and that of her children. This from our own “government”. More similar stories exist as well. One occupier was even told he was free to go. He was talked to outside of the headquarters and told if he went back on the property he would have charges against him, but if he left now, he was free to go. The FBI also confirmed this to PPN founders in Burns that were on the way to pick this person up. It was probably 20 degrees outside and this man was forced to walk over 7 miles to get outside the checkpoint. Upon arriving at this spot, he was arrested immediately without any warning. 3 bearcats were dispatched from the airport to take 1 man into custody and as they passed the area where the media was staged, the lead vehicle announced over the loudspeaker “This is not a place for you to be nor is it a circus show, move your F….KING vehicles or we will ram you out of the way… Note all vehicles were parked on the side of the road and the middle was more than clear to drive through.
After the death of Mr. Finicum, anger rose as it became very clear that cause of his death was very suspicious. The video was released and people all over this Country became outraged at the tactics used by the law enforcement which lead to the death of a man holding his hands above his head while being shot to death. Eye witness statements correlated with the video as well. Tensions again rose and a protest was organized in town which led to an anti-protest taking place at the same time. This was a very angry and nasty place to be during the protest. People were screaming at each other, cussing and using derogatory terms and even threatening violence for almost 3 hours. In retrospect, I am ashamed at how we acted towards each other. But something very special did come from the last hour of the action. People started to realize how terrible the day was and began to talk. People on both sides of the line opened up and talked about why they were there, what they believed, and listened to both sides of the line. It became pretty clear that even though a difference of opinions existed, the ultimate goal that each side wanted was not that much different. The day ended on what I feel was a positive note.
The final days of the occupation were trying. The last thing anyone wanted to see more bloodshed and we did all we could to bring it to a peaceful end. A rally to peacefully ask to bring the last 4 people out was planned. The intent to bring hundreds of peaceful people together to express the desire of THE PEOPLE to let the last 4 come out alive was presented. The plan was scratched when the day before the action was to take place, warrants for the arrest of all 4 were issued. A disturbing phone call late one morning also brought light that our plan was just too dangerous to execute for the peaceful people attending. Our plan was also met by a very angry response from the FBI stating no one was getting near the refuge and they would triple their assets to make sure of it. With the lack of any communication, lack of interest in having assistance, and bold banter about their response, it became pretty clear that law enforcement did not intend on the occupation ending on any terms other than their own. Finally, the last 4 occupiers turned themselves in after a very tense day and night, peacefully.
In a short story, that is what happened here in Oregon. Now I would like to share my experiences within the entire process with you. I want to describe interactions, the media and its abuses, the community and what I believe will come from all of this.
First I would like to discuss the absolute lack of communication put out by elected officials, law enforcement and the unwillingness to attempt to resolve the situation through talk. I asked and begged repeatedly for someone to simply call up to the people on the refuge and have a discussion. It never happened. Not from the sheriff, State of federal presence. They simply continued to build an enormous presence and refused to talk to anyone. The refuge leaders came to town specifically to talk to a negotiator and that appointment was blown off by the FBI. Said he was too busy to make it. I’m sorry, but what exactly could he be doing that was more pressing at the time?
PPN attempted to offer a line of communication and a base line of negotiations in which the people on the refuge agreed to. This attempt was once again stonewalled by law enforcement. PPN held 3 meetings with the occupiers to try and talk them into leaving. The last was 2 days prior to the death of Mr. Finicum and I truly believe that a plan was being put together to peacefully leave up to that point.
The community frustration was absolutely unreal. They had to basically be fully searched in order to get into the courthouse. The sheriff would not answer any calls or return emails. The county commissioners all but vanished except for one very vocal and corrupt county judge. The citizens had no one available to them that they elected to answer a single question. So speculation ran wild over the last 41 days.
I have to ask as well. Where exactly were all of you? The only voices the public heard was Greg Walden standing on the floor in DC talking for 25 odd minutes about the Hammond Family. Other than Ron Wyden calling the actions of Americans frustrated with the way the government is destroying our way of life, calling them a virus, not a peep came from anyone in Oregon or DC. Where were any of your voices during this issue in our own State? How many of you reached out to the people here in Harney County? How many of you visited to see if you could assist in any way? Why is it OK to let an elected official call citizens a virus, and not a word was said by ANYONE to refute it? The absolute lack of communication from all levels of government, LOCAL, COUNTY, STATE and FEDERAL was atrocious. And you wonder why the American people no longer trust their government. I believe you all have forgotten the job you have and exactly who you are working for.
Next, the enormous amount of tax payer resources used by the State, County and government in Burns, Oregon. Hundreds of agents. Untold number of vehicles. Entire hotels booked through February 2016, while most rooms go unused. The incredible amount of equipment brought in and setup at the airport and the huge amount of law enforcement presence brought into this little town. I honestly did not believe I was in the US any longer watching this. I saw something along the lines of forward operating bases being setup. What for? There was never more than maybe 30 people on that refuge at the peak, most of which were women and children. There is absolutely no explanation for the amount of resources and tax dollars wasted on this incident. I am calling for a full investigation into the misappropriation of resources.
I would like to talk about the media next. I don’t understand the one sided effort being brought forth by the main stream outlets. I gave 30 plus interviews, as did many others in the PPN and in the community. A very clear effort went into making a story shaped in a certain light. Regardless of what the media puts out, a very large number of Harney County residents supported not only the PPN effort, but the effort at the refuge. Huge amounts of food and supplies were brought out for the people there by the locals. The message that Ammon Bundy put out took off like wildfire and is still burning. The media only painted a very one sided, and quite honestly a minority view of how people felt about the occupation. A perfect example is in the local paper from February 3rd showing a group of anti “militia” protestors in front of the court house. What was not shown or discussed was the fact that those protestors were highly outnumbered across the street by people supporting the refuge, local ranchers, the Hammonds and angry at their local elected. What I would like the media outlets to do would be to define the terms “Militant” and “Militia” and apply the lives of people like myself and see if it’s a match.
Law enforcement tactics is the next discussion. What I want you and everyone in the Country to know is how unnecessary it was to ambush the men driving to John Day, Oregon the day Mr. Finicum was killed. Those men could have been arrested in town any day and time of the week, for weeks on end. They were left free to roam. They came to town to go to the store, stay in hotels, and eat in the restaurants EVERY DAY. I go back the lack of communication again. A simple call to the people letting them know a warrant had been issued would probably have resulted in their surrender to avoid any violence. Let’s keep something else in mind here. The only side of the line that threatened anyone with violence came from law enforcement. Never was there a time when anyone on that refuge threatened or even pointed a gun at someone. They maintained a peaceful narrative and stayed that course while law enforcement stood at the ready in full tactical gear and illegally searched and detained innocent civilians around the entire County. I will be disclosing these atrocities in future communications. But just to keep your attention, I have a signed affidavit from 2 local ranchers in their 50’s who were pulled over, removed from their vehicle at gunpoint, handcuffed and thrown in the snow while their vehicle was searched and driven WHILE FEEDING THEIR LIVESTOCK. The elderly man was told if he moved, he would get his balls smashed with the butt of a rifle. This is merely 1 story of many and I promise you this. The people involved in these actions and the officers involved in the shooting death of Mr. Finicum will be held accountable by the American People. The FBI continually lied to not only the public but to myself. The promise of a peaceful solution and not wanting violence was proven to be a lie. Directly lying about a man free to go and the very obvious lie about “passing info up the chain” leaves very little faith in the agency and in the integrity of the men working in the department.
The local elected officials were less than stellar in their actions during the 41 day ordeal as well. 2 of the 3 county commissioners might as well have vanished off the face of the earth. Not a single word was spoken from Dan Nichols and Pete Runnels. These men need to understand that they are a representative of the people and they failed miserably at their obligation to office. Judge Steve Grasty took the liberty to speak for everyone and in doing so resulted in countless discrimination and ethics complaints to be filed on his actions. Grasty not only infringed upon the 1st amendment rights of the people in his own County, but upon anyone willing to discuss the possibility of good coming from the refuge occupation. Grasty refused to rent a public building to any individual or group wanting to discuss the refuge situation. This was a public statement made. Then Grasty took it upon himself to limit a public discussion forum by making a rule that only county citizens could speak. Lastly, Grasty made a PUBLIC meeting venue where anyone wanting to attend needed to attain a ticket. Only 150 tickets were available and 30 of those 150 were reserved for VIP. The real issue stands with the fact that Grasty stated the only way one could get a ticket was to line up outside the courthouse and present ID showing your local address. Luckily for king grasty, someone talked some sense into him and he cancelled before the county received more law suits. Again, this agenda was put out to the public. Over the entire occupation, Grasty was aggressive in his position, even stating that he would like to get in a fist fight over the issues.
In conclusion, the events that have taken place in Harney County will be remembered in the history books. I hope that all the elected in this Country at all levels, take a real look at the position they are in and realize the frustration that lies in the community they represent. This Country is at a crossroads. The frustrations building around our lands will not always end so well. This issue did not end well. A Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother and Son lost his life for a very needless reason. . An American citizen lost his life over a person not being able to go to work. Men and women are facing felony charges for something as stupid as keeping someone from going to work. Real discussions need to happen and happen soon if we are going to keep the peace. The American people will not stand for the abuse much longer. Our Forefathers revolted for much less abuse. Please keep that in mind while you do your duty to the people you represent. I would highly recommend to all of you to get involved locally, and soon. The Owyhee Monument is a very hot button right now. Hundreds of ranchers will be severely affected and I do not believe it will be handled in such a peaceful manner as the wildlife refuge situation was. If you truly care about the people and land you represent, I would highly recommend getting off your asses and get involved.