Federal police guarding the irrigation head gates on the Klamath Project called in the FBI after a local policeman stood before protesters and warned of violence if the government and environmentalists don't back off from struggling farmers.
"Some people in the community may interpret those messages as invitations or endorsements to violence," Lt. Jeff Wasserman of the National Park Service police said Thursday of the local officer's remarks. "And the last thing we need here right now is violence."
Tensions have been building as cutbacks in irrigation from the Klamath Project required by the Endangered Species Act turned pastures and hayfields from green to brown, dried up domestic wells, and allowed grain and potato crops to die.
The frustration seemed to ease Wednesday, when a farmer and a federal irrigation official joined in turning a big steel wheel to open a head gate so that 75,000 acre-feet of water could begin flowing to parched fields.
A few hours later, Klamath Falls police Lt. Jack Redfield and several other officers drove up to the protester's camp in squad cars to give them a butchered steer from Redfield's ranch for a barbecue.
Redfield put on a white straw cowboy hat and told protesters he was speaking for himself. Then he read a two-page prepared statement.
"As the extremists and out-of-control federal agents continue to push and as the agricultural people see their fields turn brown and their entire lives destroyed, their frustration will undoubtedly escalate to the point of boiling over," Redfield read.
"I think the potential for extreme violence, even to the extent of civil war, is possible if action is not taken in the very near future to remedy this tragedy."
Police referred all queries to City Manager Jeff Ball, who said Redfield remained on duty, but the matter was being reviewed.
Wasserman said he filed a complaint with city and state police, and through his superiors asked the FBI to look into it.
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said her agency is investigating.
Relations between Wasserman's group of 15 federal officers and local authorities have been tense since they arrived two weeks ago to guard the head gates.
When farmers and local supporters climbed the chain link fence on the Fourth of July and forced open a head gate, Klamath Falls police and the Klamath County sheriff refused to step in, saying it was a federal problem.
The Bureau of Reclamation closed the gates, but soon they were open again. After federal officers arrived, Sheriff Tim Evinger asked them to leave to ease tensions with protesters.
Wasserman said federal police did not intend to remain indefinitely, but there was no date for a pullout.