‘Tis the season of provocative rhetoric and inflammatory tweets.
As we approach the dubious, one-year anniversary of the armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 2016 provides a sobering wake-up call about how words matter, and how harsh words can sometimes provoke harsh actions.
The Brothers Bundy and their antics last New Year’s Weekend set the stage for the entire year’s deplorable discourse and regrettable behavior.
Threats to public servants in the performance of their duties is nothing new, however. What’s surprising is that one of the earliest cases of credible threats to federal employees in the West came not from the radical right, but from the lunatic left.
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Ask Oregon’s Jerry Grover, an affable, gregarious retired fish hatchery manager. Grover knows what it’s like to survive an assassination “hit list.”
As do a dozen or more other refuge and hatchery workers throughout the Pacific Northwest, and extending into the Intermountain West and points east.
Their nemesis was not a posse of range-riding Marlboro Men seeking occupation, but wan, waif-like Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, seeking revenge.
The tale dates to the dark, waning years of the Age of Aquarius, when western public servants found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of the infamous Manson family and its camp followers — a story that’s kicked around the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “urban legend” for decades, unreported but entirely true.
Fromme, 27, was one in a motley cadre of hippie-chicks cavorting in Charles Manson’s cult commune in southern California in the late 1960s. Their antics degenerated into the chilling blood-fest in the Los Angeles hills known as the Tate-Labianca murders in 1969.
By 1975, against the sensational backdrop of the Patricia Hearst kidnapping, Fromme pulled a .45-caliber Colt semi-automatic on President Gerald Ford as he strolled to the California state capitol in Sacramento. “Environmental justice” was Fromme’s newest hobby. Fromme went to prison for her stunt.
Uncovered in her apartment was the “hit list” she and roommate Sandra Good had compiled for their “International People’s Court of Retribution.” Estimated from a few dozen to as many as 300, Fromme’s list fingered refuge managers, predator control agents, and office bureaucrats.
Grover, 80, made the list, as did nine Fish and Wildlife Service employees in New Mexico, a Corvallis academic, a backcountry condor researcher, a Bellingham law enforcement agent, the manager of Oklahoma’s Washita National Wildlife Refuge, and a fish lab supervisor at New York’s Cornell University.
“We once tried to figure out a common denominator among us. How did we make the list?” asks Grover. “There were high-powered, six-figured salaried oil company executives on the list and me, just a practicing ... conservationist.”
The common denominator may lie in the fact that most were all unassuming civil servants quietly performing their jobs. They, like Malheur employees who experienced their own brush with madness at the start of 2016, largely shrugged their shoulders and returned to work.
Stupid behavior — like rash tweets — often pose consequences.
David Klinger is retired press officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Regional Office, headquartered in Portland, Ore. He lives in Boise.