When I returned from my last visit to Malheur in early January, my friend Gail Hoelzle told me about another Cottage Grover named Jessica Campbell, who was over in Burns during the occupation, working as a community organizer for Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project (ROP). Gail’s description of what this young woman has been through was compelling. What follows derives from two interviews I did with Jessica Campbell.
Most of us here in Oregon didn’t know much about Cliven Bundy and his sons, Ammon and Ryan, until the boys staged an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters last Jan. 2. And most of us have never experienced the face of American terrorism up close and personal. Granted, terrorism in other places is much uglier than in Oregon; but now, we can at least see its scummy shadow. After all, Burns is only 250 miles away.
Think about being a public employee over there; public employment accounts for nearly half of the jobs in Harney County. It’s now almost six weeks into the standoff and the last holdouts of the Bundy Bunch and their supporters continue to hold Burns hostage with their national call for armed support. The Pacific Patriot Network, Three-Percenters, Oath Keepers, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association — maybe 100 outsiders total — are in Burns making their presence known to the locals. Think about trying to live a normal life and one day Franz Kafka shows up to write your story. You’re being followed into the Safeway and harassed, you’re being followed home by nameless strangers. WTF?
For years, Community Alliance of Lane County and the ROP have kept tabs on Oregon hate groups. ROP organizer Jessica Campbell began tracking many of these same folks as the result of a similar call to arms by the national militia groups in Josephine County over a BLM mining dispute in April of last year. Campbell is a 27-year-old graduate of Cottage Grove High School (2006) with a degree in bioinformatics and genomics from Oregon State University (2011). In 2006 Campbell was identified as one of Oregon’s five “emerging leaders” with a grant from the Ford Foundation. Also in 2006 she joined ROP’s board of directors.
In March and April of 2015, Campbell helped organize in Josephine County against the same militia groups that would arrive in Malheur this January. Last March, she attended and spoke at a Southern Poverty Law Center conference in Louisville, Kentucky, that had been infiltrated by the militia. By March 2015, the militia started targeting her. On Facebook and Twitter, she was misidentified as an FBI undercover agent. One email suggested that she and Gov. Kate Brown be dismembered.
When she returned home from the conference, the militia turned up the heat. They tracked down her address. One night at 3 am, an unrecognized pickup truck parked next to her driveway gate, left the engine idling, then pulled away when her partner opened the front door. Another very late night, two people with flashlights walked in her pasture near her rural house. When she arrived a few days later in Grants Pass, she was openly followed to and from appointments. Several times after community meetings at a bakery there, hostile men would be sitting on her car, only to walk away when she approached. In another incident, she suspects someone loosened the lug nuts on the front wheels of her 2014 vehicle.
I asked Campbell what she was doing to protect herself. She was advised by the Southern Poverty Law Center folks to report all of these incidents to local law enforcement, Oregon State Police and the FBI. She has done so. She and her partner have placed motion-detection cameras on her property and on her mom’s adjacent property. Both women have loaded weapons in their homes and both have been advised by law enforcement to apply for concealed weapons permits, which they have done.
Sadly, this is how domestic terrorism works. Each event weighs on you cumulatively. Studies tell us we don’t think as clearly under these circumstances; anger and fear narrow our human responses during a threat. Our flight-or-fight response goes on alert. We react more stridently, more illogically.
As a 66-year-old geezer, I have to say I’m encouraged that there’s a next generation of progressives like Jessica Campbell fighting the good fight. On the other hand, I worry for her and the foes she faces in the future. So should we all.