Michele Fiore, a Nevada lawmaker known more for her sidearm-adorned holiday photos and bombastic statements about wanting to shoot refugees than for her tactful negotiation, emerged as an unexpected voice of reason Wednesday night at the Oregon militia standoff.
“I can’t have you dying because I haven’t had a chance to hug you,” the Nevada assemblywoman, who was more than 280 miles away from Burns, Oregon at a Portland airport, said to militia supporters Sandy and Sean Anderson over the phone. The call was livestreamed on YouTube to more than 50,000 people who listened to the Andersons and two other remaining militia members debate the merits of being killed versus surrendering to the FBI and going to jail.
After a 40-day standoff, it looked as though the FBI was ready to force an end to the conflict at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which has left one militia member dead and roiled the surrounding community. Law enforcement agents surrounded the occupied building with armored vehicles and erected barricades. The sound of whooshing helicopters spooked the Andersons so much that Fiore urged them to pray and stay calm.
Previously, the 45-year-old lawmaker with lush blonde hair and a penchant for posing for Second Amendment calendars was viewed nationally as an extreme caricature of the conservative movement—a woman who brags about her ability to carry guns anywhere like she does “her bra and panties” even when she’s not supposed to.
Fiore, who moved to Nevada in the 1980s, first rose to national attention in 2014 when she became an advocate and spokesman for Cliven Bundy, the local rancher who led a lengthy standoff against Bureau of Land Management agents who were trying to impound his cattle over unpaid grazing fees. But she also has her own national political aspirations. Fiore has filed paperwork to run for Congress in Nevada’s Third Congressional District and serves on Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) presidential leadership team in Nevada.
As a Las Vegas-based assemblywoman, Fiore sponsored a bill that would allow individuals to carry concealed weapons on college campuses, at elementary through high schools and even at day cares. She has gone toe-to-toe with the state’s powerful Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval over his tax plan and budget. She’s also suggested that the best way to stop sex trafficking in Nevada would be to implement a “chemical castration or straight-up castration” program for pimps.
But Fiore’s own personal history may be a liability for her as she seeks the national spotlight, too. In 2014, Fiore was stripped of her position as assembly majority leader and as the state assembly chairwoman of the taxation committee after it became public that the IRS had $1 million in tax liens against her. In 2015, Fiore lost her home health care license after inspectors found her business, Always There 4 You, closed multiple times during their check-ins. She then shut down the business, citing brash government overregulation.
Fiore is also known for making brash and offensive comments about race relations and science. She sponsored a bill last year to give terminally-ill patients more access to experimental treatments that may not be approved by the FDA. In her defense of her bill, she said on the radio that she believed cancer was a fungus that could be washed out of the human body. Last March, during a hearing on voter access, she referred to her colleague as a “colored man.” She asked “at what point do we stop using the race card?” at the same hearing.
Fiore appears to have more moderate social views, however. She was raised in Brooklyn by her mother Lill Fiore, a lesbian, who introduced her to the gay rights movement unfolding in New York, according to a 2014 Las Vegas Sun profile that chronicled Fiore’s upbringing. In the Nevada legislature, Fiore was the only Republican to vote to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage. She also has supported efforts to legalize marijuana.