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Emotional Protesters Face Off In Burns

Two crowds of impassioned, emotional protesters faced each other Monday afternoon across an icy sidewalk in Burns, Oregon. Both sides carried signs and chanted in a rally that sometimes boiled over into arguments and shouts.

The two groups that met in front of the Harney County Courthouse engaged in what might be called the first real, face-to-face standoff since the beginning of a month-long occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The initial protest was organized by the Pacific Patriots Network, a self-described militia network that is sympathetic to some of the goals of the refuge occupiers, but doesn't condone the occupation.

The group rallied members to protest the shooting death of Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum — a militant spokesman — in a confrontation with law enforcement on Jan. 26. Pacific Patriots Network supporters also demanded Harney County Judge Steve Grasty and Sheriff David Ward step down.

The protesters called Finicum's death a murder, and said local officials have blood on their hands.

But local residents formed a counterprotest to say the outsiders don't speak for them. They gathered to demand that the outsiders go home and to show support for local officials and law enforcement.

Protesters with the Pacific Patriots Network were slightly outmatched in number by Harney County residents.

"We had a free election here five years ago and we elected Judge Grasty," said Ron Copeland, a Navy veteran who lives in Burns. "And no one from that side is going to tell us who we can have for our government and that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Some who had come to protest Finicum's death said they had not anticipated the local reaction.

"I'm a little surprised that they're in front of the courthouse, and we're in the road," said Kirsten Boyer, a resident of Winnemucca, Nevada, who was holding a handprinted sign that read, "Are you going to murder me too, for speaking out?"

"I'm going to go home after this," Boyer said. "We don't want to make people uncomfortable."

Many of the network's supporters came from a handful of rural Oregon counties — Crook, Wallowa, Grant, Douglas, Josephine and Lake — that have struggled economically since the decline of federal timber sales in the 1980s. They connected Finicum's death and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to their local struggles to open up federal forests for logging.

"The feds are out of control," said Terry Moore, a former sawmill worker from Prineville. "(Environmental group) Oregon Wild doesn't want you in the woods any more."

At times, the two sides exchanged taunts and insults. When a debate grew heated and people began to raise their voices and their hands, a Burns police officer slid between them to diffuse the tension.

The activists insisted that they too had local support, and shortly after noon, a half-dozen local ranchers pulled up in horse trailers spattered with dirt.

But many other local residents expressed that Finicum's shooting death by police was justified.

"LaVoy got shot because he was reaching for a weapon," said Victoria Dalziel, a Burns resident. "That was justifiable cause. That's what the police were trained for."

<p>A police officer steps in between BJ Soper, of the Pacific Patriots Network, and counterprotesters in Burns, Oregon.</p>

Amelia Templeton

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A police officer steps in between BJ Soper, of the Pacific Patriots Network, and counterprotesters in Burns, Oregon.

<p>A local resident from Burns who gave her name only as "Dory" shouts "go home militia."</p>

Amanda Peacher

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A local resident from Burns who gave her name only as "Dory" shouts "go home militia."

<p>A militia patch on the arm of a protester in Burns, Oregon.</p>

Amelia Templeton

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A militia patch on the arm of a protester in Burns, Oregon.

<p>One of the organizers of the initial protester, BJ Soper of Redmond, speaks through the loudspeaker.</p>

Amanda Peacher

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One of the organizers of the initial protester, BJ Soper of Redmond, speaks through the loudspeaker.

<p>Protesters organized by the Pacific Patriots Network were roughly matched in number by locals counterprotesting at the Harney County Courthouse.</p>

Amanda Peacher

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Protesters organized by the Pacific Patriots Network were roughly matched in number by locals counterprotesting at the Harney County Courthouse.

<p>Rancher Monte Siegner, from Riverside, Oregon, takes part in a protest in Burns, Oregon.</p>

Amelia Templeton

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Rancher Monte Siegner, from Riverside, Oregon, takes part in a protest in Burns, Oregon.

<p>Liz Appelman confronts a protester on the sidewalk in front of the Harney County Courthouse Monday. </p>

Amanda Peacher

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Liz Appelman confronts a protester on the sidewalk in front of the Harney County Courthouse Monday.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amelia Templeton, Amanda Peacher