“We have to do this,” Blaine Cooper told me in a rush. “The BLM lit a fire to burn this ranch down because they want the uranium that’s under it! The left blew up buildings, killed people, enslaved people to make this wildlife refuge!”
Cooper was sitting behind the wheel of a white pickup, heater blasting, and talking to me through the open window. It was the middle of last January, maybe 12 degrees above, here at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, with day just breaking over a universe of frost-whitened sagebrush and 6 inches of old snow.
Duane Ehmer, riding by on his cow horse, Hellboy, was dressed for duty in a furry cap with earflaps and an old red, white, and blue leather jacket and well-worn chaps, plus a cap-and-ball Colt pistol. The big American flag he carried barely moved in the ice-fogged stillness. Later in the day, Ehmer would tell me that he believed that the federal government had “taken away the land from good-hearted American people,” and that soon enough, our public lands would be sold off to help pay the U.S. debt to China. He was worried that he would have no place to hunt or ride his horse if and when that happened. He seemed like a good guy, the kind of person who would be handy to have with you on a tough job, or in a backcountry camp.