Gavin Seim, a conservative activist from Eastern Washington, took a high-profile role on the last day of the Oregon refuge occupation as he hosted live-streamed talks with four remaining holdouts.
Gavin Seim, a conservative activist from Eastern Washington, took a high-profile role in the last day of the Oregon refuge occupation as he hosted live-streamed talks with four remaining holdouts.
His live streams drew tens of thousands of listeners, with the audience surging Wednesday night as his YouTube broadcast relayed the tense reaction to the law- enforcement movement of vehicles close to the occupation camp site.
Then Thursday, the live streams took a dark turn later in the morning as one of the occupiers, David Fry, of Ohio, balked at leaving, and said he was contemplating suicide.
“I’m actually pointing a gun at my head,” Fry said. “I’m tired of living here.”
“God didn’t give you that authority, David, ” responded Seim, who lives in Grant County. “ .. Jesus wasn’t suicidal. He stood principled.”
Fry eventually calmed down enough to follow the lead of the three other occupiers in giving themselves up in a bizarre finish to the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns.
Seim pushed to make the final hours of the occupation as public as possible in a high-wire performance that brought both praise and criticism from those who listened online. Through the more than eight hours of conversations, he mixed counseling and prayers with strident attacks on the tyranny of the federal government.
Seim sought to nudge the occupiers toward a peaceful surrender, and brought others into the conversation to reinforce that effort, including Assemblywoman Michele Fiore of Nevada, who drove to the refuge to assist the FBI in the final surrender.
Seim said in an interview that the extended broadcasts were not planned in advance but began Wednesday afternoon as he fielded a phone call from Fry.
“I pretty much took that audio feed and ran it live in hopes that the attention would keep things from going sour,” he said. “My role was to get the message out.”
Seim, 31, is a commercial photographer and political activist. His video of his scolding of a police officer driving an unmarked patrol car went viral after he posted it on YouTube in fall 2014. In December of that year, he organized an “I Will Not Comply” rally in Olympia to denounce a law expanding gun-purchase background checks that was approved by Washington voters.
Seim’s insider role in the refuge negotiations reflects his ties to the movement seeking to place federal lands under local control.
He is an ally of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a 2014 standoff with the federal government over his failure to pay grazing fees and is the father of Ammon Bundy, who led the Oregon refuge take over that began Jan. 2.
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During his conversations with the four occupiers, Seim repeatedly sought to steer them away from an ending that might lead to bloodshed.
His biggest challenge came late Thursday morning as Fry, after the others surrendered, abruptly declared that he would stay put. The 27-year-old from Ohio said he was ready to die.
In a rambling conversation, Fry listed concerns that included not wanting to pay taxes that might be used to fund abortion, his lack of access to marijuana, and worries that he might be raped in prison.
Seim talked about how he had spent time in a cell, and from what he’d seen, the inmates like “patriots.” He urged Fry to leave the refuge.
Fry appeared to brush off Seim’s counsel.
But eventually Fry announced that if “everyone says hallelujah, I’ll come out.”
FBI agents called out hallelujah, and Fry soon came forward.
“Good job, David, good job,” Seim said on his live stream. “We’ve got your back.”