BURNS, Ore. – The occupation of a federal wildlife refuge near here has been a searing experience for Harney County's top elected leader. He's endured anonymous death threats delivered by phone and e-mail and at one point looked out the courthouse door to find armed men standing vigil by the street.
But one of the most painful blows was a phone call last week from a man he considered an old friend.
It came shortly after the Tuesday shooting by law enforcement that killed Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, an Arizona rancher and spokesman for the militants who took over the refuge headquarters complex.
"He called me to say, 'How does it feel to be involved with murdering the father of 11 kids,' " said Judge Steve Grasty. "I said, 'If that is your starting point, you and I are probably not going to be able to have this conversation.' "
With only four holdouts left, Grasty, whose job is similar to a county executive, hopes the community can soon begin to heal.
That won't be easy. The four weeks of heated rhetoric, threats and occupation of federal property have carved out sharp divisions in this rural, conservative county.
Many residents have bitterly resented the upheaval caused by the takeover that began Jan. 2 and took a dramatic turn last week with 11 arrests and Finicum's death.
Others gravitated to Ammon Bundy, the occupation leader who is among those now in custody.
"I think we're a resilient community. But the problem is there has been damage, I'm not going to deny it," said David Bohnert, an Oregon State University cattle nutrition scientist who works at a research station outside of Burns.
"I have friends on both sides," Bohnert said. "It's heartbreaking to see the differences in the people who were sitting at the table together before."
Some here blame not only the FBI and state law enforcement, but also Grasty for the militarized law-enforcement buildup.
Silent video is scrutinized
The FBI and state police hoped to convince critics that the shooting was justified by releasing a silent video of the shooting taken from an airplane. It shows Finicum driving a white vehicle that tries to skirt a roadblock and plows into a snowbank. He gets out of the car with his hands up and then reaches for what officials say was a loaded pistol in his side coat pocket before collapsing into the snow.
But critics say that without sound, it's unclear in the video when officers opened fire.
The video has been intensely scrutinized. And an organization called the Pacific Patriots Network has urged supporters from across the country to peacefully converge on Harney County to protest law enforcement and demand the resignation of Grasty and the county sheriff.
By Friday, some supporters from southern Oregon were arriving at a local motel, pistols strapped to their hips. "Guys want to drive over here for what, to tell us to leave the office? Because we're not going to," Grasty said. "They have no authority to remove us, and I'm not particularly intimidated."
Federal workers lie low
The protesters' anti-government rhetoric prompted officials to encourage federal workers to lie low. Through the occupation refuge employees have been living outside the county, while other federal staff have been working from their homes.
That's made for some lonely times for Oregon State scientists who share an agricultural research station with federal colleagues. The scientists are eager to continue long-standing collaborative efforts with ranchers and other groups to improve Harney County public lands. In January, an Oregon state board committed $6 million over the next six years for partnerships to improve Malheur Lake and other wetlands.
But with the polarization, Bohnert thinks it will be harder to expand the cooperative programs among ranchers who have embraced Bundy.
Grasty said Bundy touched on some important issues, such as the need for local input in land-management decisions. But the judge said Bundy held "delusional perspectives" and "didn't have a clue" about the recent history at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Federal refuge managers have conducted years of discussions with ranchers, tribal members and environmentalists. They came up with a management plan that is supposed to be driven by science from on-the-ground research.
That plan has support from many ranchers who graze their cattle there. That includes Andy Dunbar, who lives less than a mile from the still-occupied refuge headquarters and who would welcome the return of the federal workers.
Dunbar endured a tense Wednesday as many occupiers, after Bundy's arrest and Finicum's death, fled.
Rather than take the main public road, they drove through his property.
"I want it to be over. There are things that need to be done," Dunbar said. "We got a canal on the refuge that's got so many muskrat holes it's like Swiss cheese."