For one night, Sean and Sandy Anderson were the Pumpkin and Honey Bunny of rural America — a volatile pair, armed with guns and in the thrall of their own predicament, like the characters played by Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer in "Pulp Fiction." But instead of robbing a Los Angeles diner, Sean and Sandy were two of the four remaining anti-government occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
The standoff at the refuge morphed into tense prime-time entertainment Wednesday night, as the audio of a phone call between the Andersons and their supporters was live-streamed on YouTube for hours. The dialogue was riveting and ridiculous and laced with danger.
"We're gonna die here, and our story will get out that way," said Sean, a 48-year-old Idaho man with a significant record of misdemeanors, according to the Oregonian.
"God's in control of that," answered Gavin Seim, a self-described "liberty activist" who was streaming the phone call on his YouTube channel. Also on the call was supporter Michele Fiore, a Nevada assemblywoman who was driving the five hours from the Portland airport as the FBI surrounded the refuge.
"We are alive and we are talking and we are going to be together," said Fiore, who tried to steer the occupiers away from ideations of martyrdom. "We talked about having coffee in the morning. You guys have coffee for when I get there?"
"If we're still alive, we'll have coffee," Anderson said.
Sean and Sandy's voices were pitched between tirade and whine. They had marooned themselves on a cold prairie of scrub grass, ostensibly to prove a point, but their nerves were fraying.
"I don't want to go to jail," said Sandy at one point.
What if they drop the charges? Sean said.
"They won't," Sandy said. "They won't."
"Then let's just die here," Sean said. "I'm not gonna stay here and freeze my ass off all night."
Assemblywoman Fiore interjected from the road: "Hey, you guys want us to pick up McDonald's on the way there?"
Wednesday was the 40th day of the armed occupation, which has yielded one death and multiple arrests on the felony charge of conspiracy to impede a federal officer. Among the jailed is Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, the patron saint of this ongoing fight over federal control of rural land out West. Cliven himself was arrested Wednesday night, after arriving in Portland to head for the besieged refuge.
Meanwhile, the audio stream on YouTube broadcasted a whirl of invective and prayer, paranoia and hysteria, fatalism and patriotism. As they took turns with their cellphone, Sean and Sandy criticized numerous aspects of American society: irresponsible baby boomers, ignorant millennials, Obamacare, firearm background checks, the neutered media, and Common Core. They listened to Seim recite Psalm 92. Sean invoked the Geneva Conventions and the Boston Tea Party and the riots in Ferguson. He wanted the FBI to stand down. Sandy wanted any pending charges against them to be dropped, and insisted the occupation was a peaceful protest not a combative militia.
Around 70,000 people were listening to the live stream at its peak. What they heard was an edge-of-your-seat rally for a particular notion of freedom — freedom from such things as gun licenses, and from consequences to criminal actions. It was also a confounding dispatch from a very lonely place. Sean and Sandy felt abandoned.
"You know, the night that they killed LaVoy [Finicum], I stayed because we didn't know we could leave," Sean said. "And I was heartfelt because we heard there were patriots coming … and nobody showed up."
Seim noted the tens of thousands of listeners, and compared the occupiers' stand to the American Revolution.
Sean compared it to "Braveheart."
"We need a miracle," Sandy said.
"We gave everything for this country," Sean said.
During the course of the live stream, Fiore seemed to serve as a middleman between the FBI and the occupiers. A Republican running for Congress, Fiore is best known outside Nevada for her Christmas card featuring gun-toting family members and her "2nd Amendment Calendar":
An extremist in many ways, Fiore nevertheless served as a moderating force on the call, as Sean and Sandy veered between quavering fear and full-throated endorsements of the First and Second amendments.
"We're going to make it through this," Fiore told them, "and we're going to write about it."
Seim played host to it all, leading prayers and giving quickie history lessons involving Lexington and Concord.
"I bet you could use a good steak," Seim said at one point.
"We've got steaks," Sandy said. "We got pork. We've got everything. We just had pork fried rice for lunch. We had bacon and eggs and sausage for breakfast."
"Well that doesn't sound so bad," Seim said.
"Exactly," Sandy said. "That's why I know God said we should be here. If He didn't want us here fighting, He would've made it difficult."
As Sean negotiated with the FBI to surrender Thursday morning, it was rounding midnight on the East Coast, and the number of listeners dipped below 40,000.
"And they all get to go to bed," Sandy said after asking for the numbers, "while we're here for their freedom to do that."