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Kirk Siegler

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.

Siegler grew up near Missoula, MT, and received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Colorado.  He’s an avid skier and traveler in his spare time.

As the violent mob broke into the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, and livestreams showed pro-Trump insurrectionists defacing property and posing in the House Speaker's chair, here in the West, feelings of shock quickly faded to familiarity.

"There are years of warning signs," said Eric Ward of the Western States Center, which tracks extremism in Oregon and the West.

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In the small town of Oak Creek, Colo., — a three-hour drive from Denver, assuming the roads are clear — Gene Bracegirdle, a firefighter and EMT in training, is getting his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

"The fact that it is here is kind of mind-blowing, like, they care enough to reach out to the rural communities," Bracegirdle says.

It can feel like a parallel universe when you go from a city where kids are cooped up inside at home doing school virtually on their tablets to an isolated small town such as Bruneau, Idaho.

One afternoon this week, the bell had just rung and kids were emptying out of the small elementary school and into the snowy parking lot, almost as if it's 2019 and there is no pandemic.

No one appears to be wearing a mask, which is just fine with parents such as Cassandra Folkman.

"I don't make them wear 'em anywhere we go," Folkman says. "I don't wear one and they don't."

These last few days have been chaotic at the Nimiipuu Health Clinic on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho.

The director, Dr. R. Kim Hartwig, is trying to manage testing and treating patients for COVID- 19 and other diseases, while also racing to get a plan in place to distribute a vaccine.

"It's not something that we have a timeline [for], it's like, I got a call and was told, 'You're gonna get a vaccine in two weeks, get a plan together,' " she says.

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President-elect Joe Biden will be taking over a country that is even more sharply divided on urban-rural lines. One of the biggest reasons why the divide got bigger in 2020 may be the coronavirus pandemic.

For conservatives such as Judy Burges, a longtime state legislator from rural Arizona, President Trump did as well as he could have managing the response to COVID-19. As she waited in line to vote this fall, Burges said the economic fallout has been worse in small towns dependent on small businesses.

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At first glance, the picturesque resort town of Sandpoint, Idaho, on the banks of Lake Pend Orielle can feel like an escape from all the troubles of 2020.

That is, until you talk to frontline workers who deal with the public in this mostly rural, pristine region of forests and beauty near the Canadian border.

At Bonner General Health, Dr. Morgan Morton recounts a patient she had the other day who wanted to wait until after November to schedule a needed procedure.

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The Trump administration says it will comply, for now, with a federal court ruling that blocks William Perry Pendley from continuing to serve as the temporary head of the Bureau of Land Management.

The past seven months have been a big strain on families like Mandi Boren's.

The Borens are cattle ranchers on a remote slice of land near Idaho's Owyhee Mountains. They have four kids — ranging from a first grader to a sophomore in high school. When the lockdown first hit, Boren first thought it might be a good thing. Home schooling temporarily could be more efficient, plus there'd be more family time and help with the chores.

A white Omaha, Neb., bar owner who was recently indicted for his role in the fatal shooting of a young Black man in May during racial justice protests has died by suicide, according to the man's attorneys.

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Linda Oslin and her husband lost everything when the Camp Fire raced into their neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., in the fall of 2018.

She's in her 70s — he in his 80s — and they decided they didn't have it in them to try to rebuild. That could take years. So they found a place for sale out of the woods and farther down the mountain near Oroville, Calif., where they've started to rebuild their lives.

Except for one thing.

When firefighter Ahri Cornelius got the call that his Missoula, Mont., crew was deploying to central California, he had some reservations.

They'd be traveling from a rural state with a relatively low infection rate to California, a coronavirus hot spot. Cornelius also has a 3-year-old toddler back home with a preexisting lung condition.

"Coming down here and knowing that you're going to be around this many people in such a busy setting definitely stirred up quite a bit of anxiety for all of us," Cornelius said.

In front of City Hall, a crew shovels through debris, clearing a path to the front door. Bricks and broken glass from office buildings litter downtown. Gas station awnings have been flipped on their sides.

The best news in Lake Charles, La., in recent days: an announcement that 95% of the streets here are just now navigable, nearly a week after Hurricane Laura tore through the region.

In Orange, Texas, just across the Sabine River from Louisiana, a line of cars hundreds deep snakes along a highway shoulder and into a parking lot. A local supermarket has set up an aid distribution center in the hot sun and humidity. Families are packed in their cars, waiting to get the basics: ice, water, a hot meal.

Hurricane Laura is the first major test of whether the Gulf Coast is prepared to handle two disasters at once. Coronavirus case numbers in Southwest Louisiana were already spiking at an alarming rate. Then a Category 4 hurricane came ashore.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Todd Troyer retired as an ironworker in Milwaukee and moved to rural Wisconsin 15 years ago. The Vietnam veteran has diabetes and heart conditions and gets his prescriptions and insulin through the mail.

When his supply runs low, Troyer, 69, phones in an order to the pharmacy at the nearest VA hospital, in Madison more than an hour's drive away. He depends on the mail especially now during the pandemic, as cases in his region are continuing to rise.

"That's the thing I'm worried about: Is it going to make it here or isn't it? I don't know," Troyer says.

At the Bruneau-Grandview School District in rural southern Idaho, a couple of dozen teachers are crowded into the small library.

They're doing a refresher training for online teaching. In person-classes are scheduled to begin Monday, but with coronavirus cases continuing to rise in Idaho and other states, it's an open question for how long.

Amid pressure from Democrats and some Republicans, the Trump administration is planning to withdraw its controversial nominee to head the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The sprawling public lands agency, which manages roughly a tenth of the landmass of the United States, has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed director for the entire Trump era.

Republicans up for reelection in key Western states could be facing an uncomfortable vote soon as President Trump's controversial nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management is expected to come before the Senate for confirmation.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has denied the Justice Department's motion for a retrial in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who led an armed standoff against federal agents over cattle grazing near his ranch in 2014.

In the Idaho mountain town of Grangeville, population 3,200, signs in windows on Main Street advertise that Border Days "is on."

The annual Fourth of July celebration boasts street dances, Idaho's longest-running rodeo and even the world's largest egg toss. Like in a lot of small towns, Grangeville's economy has been struggling throughout this pandemic.

Border Days planners decided to go ahead with an altered, if slightly scaled back version of the festival this year amid worries about a possible spike in coronavirus cases.

More than three months into the pandemic, it can still be tough to get a coronavirus test, especially if you live in some of the country's more remote tribal communities.

Montana is finally trying to change that with "mass surveillance" testing events.

Until recently on the state's Flathead Reservation, you could only get a test if you were showing COVID-19 symptoms. So Eric Van Maanen was grateful to hear of a free day-long testing event in the parking lot of Salish and Kootenai College.

At a free mass testing site on Montana's Flathead Reservation, hundreds of people are queued up in idling cars. They're waiting an hour or more for the irritating nose swab test for the coronavirus, but most, like Francine Van Maanen, are just grateful to finally get one.

"We enjoyed the fact that they had this testing available to us, so why not get checked," she says, while waiting in line with her husband.

Twenty-nine-old Morgann Freeman's right eye is still alarming to look at. It's blotched bright red after a hemorrhage from exposure to tear gas. She's come back to the scene of where protests over the police killing of George Floyd turned violent in her hometown, Omaha, Neb.

It's been more than two years since Cliven Bundy left the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas a free man.

His arm around his wife, Carol Bundy, the Nevada rancher was defiant.

"We're not done with this," Bundy told reporters in January 2018. "If the federal government comes after us again we will definitely tell 'em the truth."

Billed as the oldest operating hotel in West Yellowstone, Mont., the Madison is a short hop from the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. With its original pine log siding and thick wood beams, the historic hotel sits on a street squeezed with camera stores and trinket shops hawking Old Faithful t-shirts, wooden grizzly bears carved by chain saws and paintings of the iconic Yellowstone Falls.

Normally these sidewalks beneath the old western facade would be humming with tourists. But obviously nothing about anything we're living through is normal.

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