The Oregon standoff has taken a toll on Dave Ward and, he believes, the country.
For at least the second time in less than a month, the Harney County sheriff issued an emotional call for national unity on Thursday, encouraging his fellow Americans to dial down their anger and open up their hearts.
Ward’s community has sweltered under the national spotlight since early January, when anti-government militants seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge there in protest of federal ownership of Western lands. The standoff between authorities and the activists ended Thursday but not before exposing a wound in need of healing, Ward said.
“I’ve seen people angry that couldn’t explain what they were even angry about. And it’s torn our community apart. I see it tearing our country apart,” he said at a news conference.
Ward began his brief but emotional statement professing pride for his community and how it weathered the ordeal, but he quickly pivoted.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he said, channeling the Bible and Abraham Lincoln. “I’ve seen division in our community, division in families, division amongst friends and neighbors, and divisions in our church congregations,” he said, clearing his throat.
“There’s good that can come out of this. Friends and neighbors can get off social media and sit down over a cup of coffee and talk out their differences. We can work through these things,” he said. Despite the pain and anger, nothing said cannot be resolved, Ward added.
He then recalled the occupation’s end, a tense final moment that found a peaceful conclusion thanks in part to a single word.
“I was amazed today when I was listening to a live feed — I’m sure a lot of people heard it — a young man, a very troubled young man, said ‘if everybody says hallelujah, I’ll come out,’” Ward said. “I heard hallelujahs from the SWAT team. I heard hallelujahs in unison out of an entire building of people that were watching that, with their fingers crossed, hoping to God that they could get people out alive.”
Ward praised how authorities responded to the standoff, too, even though, he lamented, “there was life lost.” He then urged his fellow Americans to work out their differences.
“We can’t continue to go on tearing each other apart and hating each other because of differences of opinions,” he said.
Get off Facebook, Ward added. Write a letter. Leave out the insults.
“And if you’re so persuaded, turn off the computer and get on your knees and pray for your leadership, because there’s no way we’re going to fix this country if we’re all mad at each other and fighting over everything,” he concluded.
The 41-day occupation had torn his community apart, he said. Now it’s finally over.