"Whoever you are, whatever side you’re on, if you care about the American west and what’s happening to it, read this book."
—Caroline Fraser, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Prairie Fires
An extraordinary inside look at America’s militia movement that shows a country at the crossroads of class, culture, and insurrection.
In a remote corner of Oregon, James Pogue found himself at the heart of a rebellion. Granted unmatched access by Ammon Bundy to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Pogue met ranchers and militiamen ready to die fighting the federal government.
He witnessed the fallout of communities riven by politics and the danger (and allure) of uncompromising religious belief. The occupation ended in the shooting death of one rancher, the imprisonment of dozens more, and a firestorm over the role of government that engulfed national headlines.
In a raw and restless narrative that roams the same wild terrain as his literary forebears Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson, Pogue's Chosen Country examines the underpinnings of this rural uprising and struggles to reconcile diverging ideas of freedom, tracing a cultural fault line that spans the nation.
Journalist Pogue's uneven first book uses a novellike style to expand on his embedded reporting for the New York Times Magazine on the 2016 armed occupation of an Oregon federal wildlife refuge by rancher Ammon Bundy and his followers. His firsthand access to the antigovernment extremists at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge results in a unique perspective, but Pogue adds in vignettes of memoir that too often feel tangential and mostly focused on creating a hard-living persona ("I remember getting a text from him, lying in bed at the Standard Downtown LA, stoned and drunk with a girl I'd met at the archery range along the Arroyo Seco"). The book doesn't need it Pogue has a knack for winning the trust of his subjects and eliciting memorable and sometimes chilling quotations, as when one occupier tells him, "We're like ISIS or something, but American." His description of some of the subjects as friends, the lack of any perspective from the federal agents on the other side, and overdramatic assertions such as "evil was being actively loosed on the land" do raise some questions about his impartiality. Pogue manages to shows the humanity of his subjects, but doesn't quite get to the bottom of the motivations behind their reckless actions.