Meet Michele Fiore, the gun-toting politician who negotiated the Oregon holdouts’ surrender.
A Nevada lawmaker whose political life has been largely animated by concerns over individual liberty and gun rights emerged as an unlikely figure in negotiating the final stage of the Oregon standoff that ended Thursday.
Panicked talks between the federal authorities and four holdouts at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge seemed headed toward a dire, perhaps violent, end, when the lawmaker, Michele Fiore, got involved Wednesday.
Authorities were struggling to persuade the group to surrender during a tense negotiation that was broadcast live online for tens of thousands of listeners and derailed over and over by screams of despair and recrimination from the occupiers.
The holdouts wondered if the agents circling them were planning to gun them down.
“They’re here to kill us,” one said on the phone.
Then a new voice piped in — Fiore, 45, had been patched into the conversation from the Portland airport, where she had just landed.
“We’re putting our big-girl panties on now, and we are taking America back.”
Fiore proceeded to act as the occupiers’ de facto negotiator, at times agreeing with their views and at others calming them down. The Nevada state assemblywoman and occupation supporter said she had spoken to the FBI and received assurances that the feds wouldn’t kick down the door Wednesday night. And when one of the occupiers worried that government snipers were going to kill everyone inside the cabin, Fiore insisted everything would be all right.
“We’re going to make it though this, and we’re going to write about it,” she said on the occupiers’ live-streamed conference call, monitored at one point by about 64,000 people.
Stay calm, she told them. “The world is watching.”
Before long, the occupiers agreed to turn themselves over to FBI agents Thursday — accompanied by Fiore and evangelist Franklin Graham.
“Fiore has really given the holdouts a sense of purpose,” tweeted John Sepulvado, a reporter covering the standoff for Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Regardless of what you think of her politics —[she] clearly defused the situation.”
The Las Vegas mother of two and grandmother of four is one of the most colorful, controversial political characters in the country. She has posed in racy wall calendars with an assortment of semi-automatic rifles. She once wrote, produced and starred in her own movie.
She is a staunch Republican who wears cowboy boots and packs a pistol at all times — even in gun-free zones, she says — yet she also backs gay marriage and marijuana legalization. She is a fiscal conservative who at one point owed the IRS more than $1 million. And she is a congressional candidate who keeps saying outrageous things, often about shooting people in the head.
The second-term assemblywoman representing Nevada’s fourth district might be best known nationally for a Christmas card.
On Dec. 1 she posted a picture of her family on Facebook that showed each member, decked out in matching red and blue, with a firearm. Fiore held a 12-gauge shotgun. “It’s up to Americans to protect America,” the accompanying text read. “We’re just your ordinary American family.
“With love & liberty, Michele.”
She has been a well-known supporter of the family of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who had a standoff with the federal government in 2014 over cattle grazing in Nevada.
Since the anti-government action began in Oregon on Jan. 2, she has repeatedly expressed sympathy for the land-use stances that have radicalized the group, led in part by two of Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan.
In recent weeks, she has communicated with members of the armed occupation in Oregon, her executive assistant, Cassidy McGowan, said Thursday.
McGowan said the assemblywoman was able to change the tenor of the standoff because of her unique connection with the occupiers.
“Part of their concern was if they got arrested they’d just be forgotten about,” McGowan said. “And she was able to reassure them that will not happen. ‘I will fight for you. I will fight to make sure that this ends safe. We are here. We care.’”
Fiore’s social-media accounts are suffused with protestations over claims of government overreach and posts about gun control, an issue she often addresses with images of herself holding weapons. With her telegenic looks and carefree style, she is reminiscent of Sarah Palin.
Her public comments have sometimes drawn outrage and, in one case concerning her views on cancer, bafflement.
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In November, during a discussion on a Las Vegas radio station, she seemed to endorse violence against Syrian refugees, whose resettlement in the United States has become a contentious issue after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
“I’m about to fly to Paris and shoot them in the head myself,” Fiore said. “I am not OK with Syrian refugees. I am not OK with terrorists. I’m OK with putting them down, blacking them out.”
She later said that the impulse toward violence was meant to refer only to terrorists, not all Syrian refugees.
Last February, she drew criticism for comments she made to The New York Times.
Discussing a bill she sponsored that would allow guns on college campuses, she said: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”
Last spring, she fueled some headlines with the way she referred to a black lawmaker as she defended a proposed voter-identification law.
“I can tell you the great respect I have for my peer Mr. Munford being the first colored man to graduate his college,” she said, referring to Assemblyman Harvey Munford, a Democrat.
She added, “We’re in 2015, and we have a black president, in case anyone didn’t notice, so the color and the race issue — I think it’s time that we put that to rest.”
On her weekly radio program, “Walk the Talk,” Fiore once endorsed a widely discredited theory about cancer — that it’s a fungus. She was promoting a bill that she said would allow unapproved treatments for people with terminal illnesses.
“If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a PICC line into your body and we’re flushing with, say, saltwater, sodium carbonate, through that line and flushing out the fungus,” she said. “These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.”
Her background is not your usual GOP fare. She was born in Brooklyn to a liberal, lesbian mother who raised Michele around equality parades in the late 1970s, according to the Las Vegas Sun. Her uncles were NYPD officers who taught her to fire a gun.
When her mother moved to Las Vegas in the late 1980s, Fiore did, too, attending college but never graduating. She and her mother started a home health-care company, Always There 4 You. Ironically, it’s no longer there for anyone after shutting down last year and having its license revoked by state regulators, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. (She blamed the shutdown on Big Government.)
She always harbored higher aspirations, however, and in 2005 she wrote, produced and starred in a movie, “Siren,” about a humble housewife who tries to make it as a singer.
She has admitted to owing the IRS more than $1 million in unpaid taxes, but blamed it on a thieving employee and her ex-husband’s bad accounting. She even lobbied, unsuccessfully, to stay on as chairwoman of the Nevada Assembly’s Taxation Committee.
About that Christmas card showing her and her family clutching serious weaponry: She was widely criticized for the photo, which featured her young grandson holding a gun.
She was unfazed: “I am 100 percent politically incorrect, and I say bad words,” she told the Sun.