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The fallout from the Sublette County wolf incident – local tension and worldwide death threats

A green population sign that reads ‘Daniel, Pop 110, Eleve 7219, with a road and houses in the distance.
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Waymarking
The Daniel, Wyoming population and elevation sign. The live wolf was brought into the local bar.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the man who brought a wolf into a bar in Daniel, Wyoming.

The state fined Cody Roberts $250 dollars in March for possessing a live wolf in Sublette County, as originally reported by KHOL. Photos and videos show the wolf’s mouth taped shut and later muzzled at a local bar, with Roberts posing with it. He later killed the wolf.

This sparked international outrage – with people calling it torture and demanding Roberts’ arrest. Meanwhile, there’s also staunch local support for Roberts. The back and forth hatred is raining down on Wyomingites, most of whom weren’t part of the incident.

The local tension.

Cali O’Hare is the editor and reporter of the weekly newspaper in Sublette County – the Pinedale Roundup.

“What could be more stressful than being a one-woman newspaper and doing nearly everything?” O’Hare said, adding that the full-time reporter was laid-off recently.

A woman sits at a desk with computers, colorful trinkets and plants. Behind her is a bookshelf with newspapers, books and binders.
Caitlin Tan
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Wyoming Public Media
The Pinedale Roundup’s sole editor and reporter Cali O’Hare sits at her desk in an otherwise empty newsroom. Covering the wolf incident has been tough both because she doesn’t have staff to lean-on and she knows the people connected to the incident.

O’Hare’s bright eyes jumped around from multiple computer screens and a long to-do list – one of the items? Follow-up wolf coverage.

“And that has been all consuming,” she said with a deep sigh. “It is truly one of those, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.”

She said it’s been a gut punch to cover the story. That’s partly because Sublette County, population 8,728, is a tight-knit community, and everyone knows everyone. Some are pretty protective of the Roberts

– a multi-generational family here.

“My partner of 11 years grew up with Cody Roberts,” O’Hare said. “We almost lived next to him.”

She remembered coming home and telling her partner, “Hey, I have to write this article. And it may be hard to read, and it may have blowback.” 

And it certainly did.

“I don't know if it would be helpful to you if I read these,” O’Hare said as she leafed through some printouts of comments from the Pinedale Roundup Facebook page.

She’s received more than she can count. One post from mid-April had 162 comments. Many are from across the globe, some from Sublette County, condemning Roberts. But others are from locals chastising O’Hare.

“This guy, he works for road and bridge,” she said, showing a printout of his Facebook comment. “It says, ‘Go practice real journalism Cali O’Hare, you b*tch on a witch hunt for a man's family.’”

Three Pinedale Roundup newspapers showing articles written about the wolf incident.
Caitlin Tan
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Wyoming Public Media
Several Pinedale Roundup newspapers featuring stories on the incident written by Cali O’Hare.

Another comment from the county treasurer asked O’Hare to stop the coverage and an employee with Sublette County planning and zoning accused O’Hare of not being objective.

“I'm just doing my job. It's not personal,” she said. “And I have great empathy for all of the folks involved in this.”

Notably, O’Hare has received some positive feedback from the community, and she added that she’s not threatened for her safety. However, she and her partner have lost a lot of friends.

“Someone who I thought we had a great relationship with, and now all of a sudden, they're not even looking at me or talking to me, because I've covered this story,” she said.

But there’s a flipside.

Death threats from across the globe. 

Hateful comments have also come from wildlife advocates who don’t support Roberts. They're accusing him of abusing and torturing the wolf, and they're being really vocal.

Thousands of online threats are being slung toward Wyomingites as a whole, with hashtags trending like #wyomingtorturestate and #boycottWyoming. But many of these people are reserving their most hateful rhetoric for those closest to the incident – or so they think.

“I mean, I've had death threats from Ireland, Russia, Japan, Australia. I don't know how many 1000s of messages I've had. I think I’ve had 15 this morning,” said Cody Roberts of Thayne, Wyoming.

This is not the Cody Roberts – his family declined an interview. This Cody Roberts lives almost two hours away and isn’t related. He didn’t think much of it when the news broke, but many people have mistaken his Facebook page for the Cody Roberts.

Some of the messages are pretty violent.

“Like this one just says, ‘You're a psychopathic wolf torturer kill yourself,” Roberts read.

It’s not just him – his parents’ phone number was shared on Facebook and his wife received messages threatening to rape her. Roberts read another message saying, “I'll run your grandson over and break his legs.”

He said he’s responded to every single message explaining that he’s not the same guy, but some people don’t accept it.

“I mean, one lady even went and said, ‘I don't care if you're not the right one, do me a favor and put a bullet in his head and this will all go away,’” he said.

Roberts added that he’s also disappointed in what the Cody Roberts did, but he actually thinks this verbal abuse is worse. And now, he even has empathy.

Does he deserve everything that he's getting? No, I don't think he does,” he said. “He's still a human.”  

So far, the Thayne, Wyoming Roberts isn’t too worried about his family’s safety. But there is a group of protestors planning a motorcycle brigade from Texas to Daniel, Wyoming later this month. ‘Hogs for Hope’ is raising funds for a couple wildlife advocacy groups to spur legislative changes in Wyoming regarding predator abuse. Notably, state lawmakers have formed a subcommittee to do just that. But, the group is still charging forward, and Roberts said some of the people who say they’re attending are the ones who’ve sent him violent messages.

“I'm sure that some of the people are going to be okay, and be peaceful in their protest,” he said. “But is the entire group going to be that way?”

That’s just one of the wolf-related things the local authorities are monitoring.

An unprecedented number of threats. 

The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office is inside a glass door and down some stairs in a dimly lit basement. Inside, public information officer Travis Bingham was hard at work. There’s an active investigation into whether Cody Roberts broke any animal abuse laws, but also an unprecedented number of related investigations.

“We've had threats on people's lives or their businesses,” he said.

A man sits in a police uniform inside a large LED-lit meeting room, with black folding chairs in the background.
Caitlin Tan
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Wyoming Public Media
Public information officer Travis Bingham sits inside a meeting room at the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office. He said the global attention from the incident and resulting threats are unprecedented.

On top of that, they’re getting thousands of frustrated calls from around the country, clogging up dispatch. On their Facebook page, a recent, unrelated informational post on cryptocurrency garnered 595 comments – almost all are angry at Roberts or Wyoming, with comments like ‘#justiceforthepreciousgraywolf’, ‘DO NOT GIVE THIS STATE YOUR HARD WORKING MONEY’ and even a photo of a scrap of paper with a phone number that the commenter claimed is Roberts’ business number. For comparison, posts from before the incident had no comments, aside from similarly angry comments made retroactively.

Bingham said to try to reduce the chaos, they created a separate tipline.

“We still have citizens to serve and they're still expecting 911 service and police service for other things,” he said.

Meanwhile, all this global attention and hate – it’s mostly behind a keyboard. But not for the locals. Moving through town – in bars, the grocery store, at the post office – tension feels palpable. Bingham said the focus now is moving forward.

“We'll learn from it and move on,” he said simply.

Part of that moving on is wrapping up the investigation, but Bingham said the timeline at this point is unknown.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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