The armed standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge appeared to be headed to a violent climax.
Four occupiers were sounding increasingly agitated as heavily armed FBI agents inched closer.
“They’re 50 feet from me,” said Sean Anderson, during a series of telephone calls that were broadcast live over the Internet by a supporter.
On the other end of the line was Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, racing from the Portland airport to the refuge five hours away in a bid to help avert a bloody showdown. “We’re speeding,” she said. “We need you to stay alive.”
During hours of tense negotiations Wednesday, Fiore, 45, emerged as an unlikely mediator, helping to secure the peaceful surrender the next day of the last holdouts at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The two-term Republican lawmaker has built a reputation as a brash-talking, gun-toting 2nd Amendment advocate. She had flown to Oregon to show support for the anti-federal protesters.
But on the phone Wednesday, she was a soothing voice, repeatedly exhorting the four to remain calm and telling them that they needed to stay alive in order to keep up the fight.
It was not the first time that Fiore has stepped into the limelight.
She first made a name for herself doing TV and radio spots in support of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy during an earlier standoff over more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees. Bundy was arrested when he arrived in Portland late Wednesday, apparently to show support for the occupation of the refuge led by two of his sons, Ammon and Ryan.
Fiore is perhaps best known for an infamous Christmas card she posted on Facebook in December showing family members — including a young grandson — dressed in matching red shirts and carrying firearms.
“It’s up to Americans to protect America,” the post said. “We’re just your ordinary American family. -With love & liberty, Michele.”
She followed that up with a calendar featuring pictures of herself posing with guns.
“Diamonds aren’t a girls only best friend,” says the caption under one image, in which a bejeweled Fiore holds up a semiautomatic pistol.
She caused an uproar in December when she appeared to suggest during a weekly radio broadcast that she wanted to shoot Syrian asylum seekers in the head.
Asked why she didn’t sign onto a letter from the Nevada Assembly Republican Caucus supporting a review of refugee resettlement programs after Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris in November, she said she and some of the most conservative Assembly members didn’t know anything about the letter.
“What, are you kidding me? I’m about to fly to Paris and shoot ‘em in the head myself,” Fiore said. “I am not OK with Syrian refugees, I am not OK with terrorists. You know, I’m OK with putting them down, blacking them out, just put a piece of brass in their nocular cavity and end their miserable life. I’m good with that.”
She later clarified that she was talking about killing terrorists, not refugees.
Fiore has also taken heat for referring to a fellow lawmaker as “colored” and for endorsing a widely discredited theory that cancer is a fungus that can be treated with salt water and sodium carbonate.
She once owned a home healthcare business called Always There 4 You, but state regulators pulled the license, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in November. Fiore blamed the government.
“To put it simply, it happened because ‘They,’ the army of regulators, bureaucrats and inspectors, followed by the ever-increasing array of taxes and fees, won,” she was quoted as saying.
The previous year, the paper reported that roughly $1 million in tax liens had been filed against her and her businesses. She blamed the unpaid taxes on an employee who had stolen from her and on poor accounting by her ex-husband.
“Once we learned what was really going on, my accountant, the IRS and I came up with a fair and workable solution and a payment plan,"she told conservative radio host Alan Stock. “I took full responsibility and have been in compliance ever since.”
At one time, Fiore had aspirations in the entertainment industry.
In 2005, she wrote, produced and starred in a movie called “Siren,” about a stay-at-home mom who pursues her dreams of rock stardom — her real childhood dream, she told the Los Angeles Times.
She made a bid for Congress as a tea party candidate in 2010, but was defeated, badly, in the primary. Two years later, she won a seat in the state Assembly, where she has been energetic if unpredictable presence. She put her name to 95 bills in her freshman year, the Sun reported.
She was the only Republican to vote for legalizing marijuana and lifting the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. She also sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to allow college students to carry concealed weapons on campus.
“I didn’t get the memo that says you’re supposed to sit down, shut up and behave,” she told the paper.
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