When 27-year-old David Fry held a gun to his head and threatened to pull the trigger with 31,000 people listening in on a livestream, Michele Fiore knew she had only a few precious moments to save the situation.
It was do or die.
“There was a lot going on in his mind,” Fiore told FoxNews.com in an exclusive interview. “I think that sometimes when you don’t know what’s in store or what’s going to happen next, it’s scary.”
Fry, the final occupier of a remote federal property in Oregon, surrendered Thursday afternoon to federal authorities after a lengthy six-week standoff that had already claimed the life of one sympathizer and looked like it might claim another.
Fiore, who had been on the phone with Fry for hours and helped negotiate the surrender of three other protestors Thursday, was sitting in an armored vehicle outside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which armed protestors took over on Jan. 2.
She wasn’t going anywhere.
“We were in sight,” she said, adding that she was given full leeway by federal authorities to negotiate his safe surrender. “I was pleasantly surprised at the level of cooperation.”
Fiore said she had gotten assurances from federal authorities they would not burst in and kill any supporters still in the cabin.
“It shows that everybody is willing to listen. Nobody really wants to die,” she said.
But Fiore told FoxNews.com she knew it could have gone very differently.
In late January, Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, who acted as the unofficial spokesman for the group, was shot and killed after he and five others were pulled over by FBI officers and Oregon state police about 50 miles north of the refuge.
The standoff, which had been peaceful until then, had turned violent. And with tensions rising, it could easily have escalated again.
Fiore, who had been in contact with sympathizers in the past, said her biggest weapon was that she could relate.
“God gave us two ears,” she said. “And you listen. You hear their frustration. I was genuinely concerned - I’ve walked in those same shoes.”
Fiore, a controversial Carson City, Nev. lawmaker, is emerging as the voice of reason in the standoff, earning points for her dramatic and pivotal role in Oregon.
The brash, blond, gun-toting grandma stayed up for hours talking, listening and praying with protestors for a safe outcome.
“The only way we’re going to be able to write your story and write your book is if you stay alive,” she told them at one point. “There’s been one martyr too many.”
As a self-appointed mediator, Fiore struck a calm tone as she negotiated the tricky surrender. She knew the stakes were high.
In one of the more tense moments with Fiore, he shouted he “declares war against the federal government.”
“Liberty or death, I take that stance,” he said.
As she had in the previous several hours, Fiore stressed the idea that the message the occupiers wanted to send would be heard louder if they were alive.
Striking a balance between what the federal government wanted and what the protestors wanted came down to the unlikely negotiator.
Fiore has come under scrutiny from lawmakers in Nevada as well as on a national level, but it was her unique brand of home-grown appeal that allowed her to successfully negotiate the peaceful surrender in Oregon.
But in hindsight, some say sending Fiore might not have been their first choice.
The two-term assemblywoman has been slammed in the past for her unconventional views – she believes cancer is a fungus that can be cured with baking soda and water and has offered to shoot Syrian refugees in the head.
She also hasn’t held back in her feeling toward the federal government. She has called out the government for pouncing on local liberties and made headlines for a Christmas card she sent of her family –including children - carrying guns.
The unapologetic Brooklyn-born conservative who moved west in 1993 is also a part of Sen. Ted Cruz’s Nevada leadership team. Her aspirations include a run for Congress.
“I’m tired of elected officials,” she told FoxNews.com
Still, those who know her best – like Cassidy McGowan, Fiore’s executive assistant, says having Fiore negotiate a drawdown made perfect sense.
Fiore has been a well-known supporter of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who was in a standoff with the federal government in 2014 over grazing rights in Nevada. She has also been extremely vocal about her support for land use issues and in recent weeks tried to find common ground between occupiers and the government.
“She’s very passionate about land management issues and western states,” McGowan told FoxNews.com. “She said to them, I can help you more when you’re alive and in jail.”