The masterminds that conceived last week's massive raid on people suspected of illegally dealing Native American artifacts called their operation "Cerberus Action."

In Greek mythology, Cerberus is the multiheaded dog with snakes on his back and a dragon on his tail who guards the gates of hell and refuses entrance to living humans.

The symbolism was to imply protecting the afterworld from human looters.

The symbolism soon gave way to reality last Wednesday morning when 150 federal agents swooped into the small town (population 3,200) of Blanding and handcuffed 16 suspects — two-thirds of the 24 arrested — and hauled them off to Moab to be arraigned in front of a federal magistrate.

Many folks in Blanding have since wondered if dealing with a multiheaded dog with snakes on his back and a dragon on his tail might have been preferable.

"It was overdone. It was overkill. The people here, the majority of them, feel violated by the heavy-handed Gestapo tactics," said Neil Joslin, owner and publisher of the Blue Mountain Panorama, the Blanding area's weekly newspaper.

The townspeople, he said, are lamenting the fact that there was seemingly no effort to differentiate between suspected artifact dealers who might pose an arrest threat and others who did not.

Instead, everyone was treated more or less like they were John Dillinger.

"They were taking men in their 70s who never hurt anyone in their life away in chains and shackles," added Joslin. "It didn't have to happen that way; that's what people are saying."

And they were saying that before 60-year-old Dr. James Redd, one of the accused, committed suicide the day after the raids — an apparent reaction to the trauma of a dozen agents storming into his home at 6:30 a.m., cuffing him and driving him the 72 miles to Moab like he was Public Enemy No. 1.

Redd, like all but one of the 24 arrested, was released after being formally charged, innocent until proven guilty, but the longtime town doctor apparently couldn't easily adjust.

"People are just outraged right now," said Joslin on Tuesday. "They'll bury Jim Redd today and then see what happens."

Strongly worded letters demanding an investigation have already been sent by San Juan County commissioners to the governor, the state Senate and U.S. Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch.

"Most people here believe it was just a big political show to make a point and say look at us, we can do it," said Joslin.

Not that everyone thinks that way.

"There are people in town who think it was a good thing. We've got some archaeologists and other people who think it was the right thing to do," said the newspaper publisher. "But they are not a majority."

The majority is upset.

The majority can't understand how the feds can devote so much time — a 2½-year investigation — and manpower — the 150 agents in town last Wednesday reportedly represented about half of the total number of federal officers involved in the probe — to one case when money is tight and so many other problems need attention.

"Local law enforcement has been trying to get the feds to help with drug investigations and look into other suspected serious criminal activity down here, and they say they don't have the resources," said Joslin. "They try to get help detaining the illegal aliens who come through here all the time. But the feds tell them, 'We have no resources, let them go.' They don't have enough in their budget to come down and pick them up. Then they bring in 150 agents in one day. At what cost?"

"This is not going to go away for a while," said Joslin. "No one condones breaking the law. But there also has to be some common sense involved."

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to [email protected]