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“This Is More Than A Protest”: Behind The Scenes In Oregon, Ammon Bundy Preaches Revolution

Ammon Bundy came here to preach.

But Bundy is not spreading the word of God, though he’s a devout Mormon. Instead, Bundy is telling local residents that the federal government is illegitimate, that the county government is the highest authority in the land, and that they should arrest their local sheriff and subject him to a citizen grand jury if he sides with the treacherous feds.

This is the gospel of the sovereign citizen movement—and Bundy is winning converts.

I’m from rural Utah. You can’t grow up in rural parts of America and not know militia types. I’ve met five people from southern Utah up here already; Bundy’s brother, Ryan, lives in my hometown. When Ammon and his supporters took over Malheur a week ago, I started calling around to find out what was going on and was asked to tell the “real story.”

It started when Dwight and Steven Hammond were ordered back to prison after apparently not serving enough time for an arson conviction for burning some federal land. The Hammonds have been fighting the Bureau of Land Management for decades after BLM gained control of a strip of land between their range and pasture, refusing to let them drive over it. Thanks in part to this fight, Rep. Greg Walden got legislation passed to rein in the BLM. The bureau ignored it, according to Walden, and then charged the Hammonds and other ranchers exorbitant fees to access their own land.

If Congress can’t even control federal agencies, what’s a rancher supposed to?

Ammon Bundy had an answer.

He has been here for months, educating ranchers about the tenets of the sovereign citizen movement. See, the feds don’t listen to the law, but you don’t have to listen to the feds, he told them. The U.S. government is not legitimate; the highest authority here is the county and the sheriff, who can tell BLM and FBI to get lost.

“The sheriff has a sworn duty to protect his citizens,” Ammon Bundy says as another man finishes his sentence, “against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”

These ideas are taken chapter and verse from the sovereign citizen bible, a bizarre tributary of right-wing ideology that believes the federal government has been illegally occupying American land since at least the end of the Civil War.

These ideas have inspired militias over the past four decades, paramilitary-style groups that often allow would-be demagogues to present themselves as representatives of the original “divinely inspired” form of government. These forces fueled deadly standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco, culminating in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. That terror attack hurt the militia movement, but it has grown dramatically during the Obama years.

Ammon’s men says Harney County Sheriff David Ward is nothing less than a collaborator with the real enemy: the U.S. government.

“Sheriff, your oath was not made to the federal government nor any of their corporate entities such as the BLM or Forest Service etc,” the men wrote in an open letter. “Where were you when a foreign entity not having any constitutional power, authority and jurisdiction within your county abused your citizens?… Have you taken sides with the Feds?”

If the sheriff does not say “no to the Feds and rid  your county of their presence and tyranny that they have spread across your County,” then locals should form a citizen grand jury and indict him.

Some ranchers are listening, because they’ve tried everything else and feel screwed by the government. When people come to give the feds a taste of their own medicine by taking over some of Uncle Sam’s land, the ranchers hope this will be the thing that finally forces the government to obey its own laws.

Security is tight at the compound. Men with anti-government patches, holding assault rifles, patrol the buildings in full tactical gear. There’s a truck parked crosswise across the road at the entrance. Two guards in ski masks survey the area from a tower.

Some of the guards are provided by a militia group called the Three Percenters. They take their name from the idea that only 3 percent of American colonists fought in the Revolutionary War and it would only take the same slice of America to liberate it from its federal oppressors today. The militiamen patrol the perimeters and even drive through the closest major town, Burns, 30 miles away.

Brandon Curtiss, president of the Idaho Three Percenters, said they’re here to “make sure this doesn’t turn into a Waco situation, but we’re also here to make sure that extremist elements, people who really do want to start trouble, don’t come in.”

Many people carry guns: a Ruger P89, a Makarov .9mm, a .45 revolver. The handguns never leave their holsters except for cleaning except when people gathered around to admire some beautiful engraving on one sidearm.

Bundy has expelled people for carrying long arms openly, as it was an unnecessary escalation. He is playing a long game, mindful of PR. There is also no alcohol in the buildings. You might see an occasional flask up the hill, outside (I was offered a slug of moonshine to ward off the cold). Nobody wants Ammon to see them drinking.

Inside the encampment, more than two dozen men, women, and children occupy stone and wood buildings surrounded by snow-covered trees and picnic tables. There’s a bunkhouse, offices, a kitchen. The beds are meant for firefighters and visiting biologists, but they serve armed occupiers just as well.

The occupiers are resupplied by locals friendly to the cause. Cupboards burst with jerky, trail mix, crackers. If you’re going to conduct an armed takeover of federal buildings, you need lightweight things filled with calories, especially in the winter. When one driver announced he was carrying doughnuts, laughing men raided his back seat while a child begged his mom for permission to join in. One rancher brought a whole cord of wood and another brought winter jackets. Resupply happens hourly, depending on what the ranchers have to spare.

Someone found the keys to the wildlife refuge’s trucks, although only trusted people get the keys. “This belongs to We the People,” you hear over and over. Militia members and supportive locals have already renamed the national wildlife refuge as the “Harney County Resource Center.”

Similarly, the occupiers say the buildings are open to anyone but they aren’t friendly to outsiders except locals. Perfectly polite, always, but not friendly. In fact, they don’t talk to press outside of canned responses for the most part. The meetings are closed; paranoia is running high. Who is coming, and when, and what will we do? What is the plan?

But walking around, you hear snippets of conversation. Some people appreciate the snark of “Y’all Qaeda” and laugh at “Vanilla ISIS,” too. They’re not without humor, but they spend most of the time talking tactics and politics.

“We have to wake up the residents,” one says.

“We can only pray that they will see how much strength they have,” another says.

“Article II, though…” a different man begins to implore.

“You know this is all not the real problem,” says one of the newcomers around the campfire at night. “It’s those Muslims coming in here, the government is letting the terrorists in and calling them refugees.”

John Ritzheimer, an Iraq war veteran fond of wearing “fuck Islam” T-shirts and protesting mosques, shuts that chatter down.

“You know, I agree with you. That’s what I do for a living, when I’m not here, try to tell people about this [radical Islam] threat. But that’s not why we’re here, and we’re not going to get into it now.”

The discussion turns to the United Nations, Agenda 21, the New World Order, and the Illuminati. One man covers all the cameras on his devices so the government can’t turn them on remotely, he says, which Edward Snowden revealed was not a paranoid fantasy.

People are frustrated that the press coverage is focusing on the guns and the crazy talk. The story is supposed to be about Harney County, the plight of the ranchers. Ammon’s actions were meant to bring attention to the injustice and overreach by the government. While everyone sort of knew that city folk might misinterpret things, locals are astonished that they only hear about guns on the news.

These people are cut off from the rest of the country, really; the days melt into each other just like the seasons. Civil unrest in cities, and the idea that perhaps the fourth estate isn’t as responsible as it once was, are new and frightening things. The ranch family I stay with has discussions long into the night about how they are learning more about the country than they ever wanted to learn. When I showed them footage of police brutally cracking down in Ferguson they were shocked to their core, even knowing how malevolent power can be.

I never expected to hear the same emotions and philosophies from a 15-year-old gang member in Missouri and a 67-year-old rancher in rural Oregon, but close your eyes and you’ll hear it.

“Why don’t they just follow the law?” asks the rancher, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of BLM retribution. “We’re not being violent, we’re just trying to get justice.”

The media is starting to go home, and the ranchers surrounding the refuge are now left with the fallout: People come to see what the fuss is about and nobody can deny that these people are all very nice.

At first, the rancher was cautiously supportive of the Bundys, even bringing supplies to the men. Now that attention has been brought to the plight of Harney County, the rancher would like to see the Bundys go home.

People living here want respect, not a revolution.

 

By: Linda Tirado, The Daily Beast, January 10, 2016

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Anti-Government, Domestic Terrorism, Sovereign Citizens Movement | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Denying Extremists Another Recruiting Opportunity”: Kid Gloves For Homegrown Extremists Are Part Of A Strategy

Soon after a bunch of white guys with guns holed up at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in protest against the federal government, wags took to social media to deride them.

“Y’all Qaeda,” “YeeHawdists” and “Vanilla ISIS” are some of the clever put-downs circulating on Twitter.

Critics also decried what they perceive as a double standard in the seeming lack of response from law enforcement. If the gun-toting men were black or Muslim, went the typical argument, they would have incurred the full, militarized wrath of law enforcement.

So it might appear, but if you think law enforcement agencies are being deferential out of fear, you couldn’t be more wrong. Be very grateful that federal officials know exactly whom they are dealing with: troublemakers just itching for an excuse to claim that the federal government provoked them first.

As of this writing, things are still calm at the wildlife refuge, nearly 30 miles from the nearest town. But this bunch has itchy trigger fingers and enough conspiracy-addled emotion to take their standoff to the next level of danger.

In this desolate location, these guys are more likely a danger to each other than to the local population — although they have irked nearby residents and the Burns Paiute Tribe, who deem the siege a desecration of sacred land.

Ammon Bundy — the son of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who had his own standoff with federal agents in 2014 over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees — and the other men occupying the wildlife refuge splintered off from a protest of several hundred people, a gathering that drew Oregonians concerned about longstanding issues with rules for land overseen by U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Bundy is from Arizona. How’d he wind up in Oregon? He smelled an opportunity for the limelight.

Bundy calls his Oregon crew Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, and it includes his brother and an Arizona man, Jon Ritzheimer, who has gained renown of late for staging armed anti-Muslim protests.

The presence of Ritzheimer and other idiosyncratic “patriots” led the Daily Beast to dub the occupation Wingnut Woodstock. These anti-government activists have come out of the woodwork at a time when some Americans have become hyper-focused on Islamic terrorists, Syrian refugees and other perceived threats to the nation.

Indeed, America faces multiple threats, including homegrown extremists. This month, Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization reviled by extremists, issued a report noting that the number of militia groups in the U.S. leapt to 276 from 202 in 2014.

In October, the Justice Department announced a new office to focus entirely on homegrown extremists. In doing so, the department acknowledged that it had taken its eye off the ball domestically, consumed as it has been with threats of overseas terrorists since 9/11.

Law enforcement authorities closer to the street haven’t been as easily distracted. A June survey by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University found that police were highly aware of the homegrown threat. Surveying nearly 400 departments, it found that 74 percent were more concerned about anti-government extremists than the possibility of an attack inspired by or actually the work of al-Qaida or the Islamic State.

A colleague of mine, Kansas City Star reporter Judy L. Thomas, has spent decades chronicling such movements. She has written extensively on Posse Comitatus, Christian identity groups, white nationalists, militias and now the growth of the sovereign citizen movement, loose networks that see the government as dangerously corrupt and out of control.

Part of the problem, Thomas said, is that we don’t have a consistent definition of domestic terrorism. And the term is sometimes abused for political gain. It can be difficult to determine who is a mere conspiracy theorist with an arsenal and who is likely actually to act out his revolutionary fantasies violently.

The homegrown extremist groups often see themselves as soldier-saviors of America, armed and ready to do battle with the evil federal government that is taking away constitutional rights. Thomas’ sources, including past federal agents, say that much was learned after Waco, where more than 75 people died, as well as in other encounters with militia members. Authorities prefer methods to defuse rather than spark confrontation. That will surely save lives, in Oregon and elsewhere. And it will, one hopes, deny extremists another recruiting opportunity.

Ritzheimer said this in a widely viewed video he posted online from Oregon: “I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to fight against tyranny in this country.” Authorities are taking him at his word — and not giving him his chance for martyrdom.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, January 8, 2015

January 9, 2016 Posted by | Anti-Government, Domestic Terrorism, Homegrown Extremists | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Bundy Caliphate”: Ammon Bundy Starts Wingnut Woodstock in Oregon

Ammon Bundy’s band of Oregon militiamen include anti-government wingnuts who have fought the feds on behalf of ranchers before, and one activist whose anti-Muslim rhetoric sparked warnings from the FBI.

On Saturday, armed extremists seized buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge—300 miles southeast of Portland—to protest prison time for Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son ranchers convicted of arson for torching more than 100 acres of federal land, allegedly to cover up poaching.

The occupiers are led by Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose 2014 standoff with the feds made national headlines. The elder Bundy was fighting the Bureau of Land Management, which came to seize his “trespass cattle” that were grazing on public land. Right-wing militias rushed to defend Cliven, and authorities eventually retreated.

Now some of the same anti-government provocateurs are heeding the call to head to Oregon, where Ammon and about 20 others split from a peaceful demonstration on Saturday and drove 30 miles to the wildlife refuge’s headquarters, which were closed for the holidays.

The militiamen took up posts on the snow-covered desert to protest what they call the federal government’s illegal ownership of Harney County land, which they believe should belong to local ranchers.

“I didn’t come here to shoot. I came here to die,” one militiaman told Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Amanda Peacher. The camouflage-clad man would only identify himself as “Captain Moroni,” Peacher said in a tweet.

While it appeared police didn’t take the bait, the men nonetheless stood guard at a tower typically used to watch for range fires, The Oregonian reported.

Les Zaitz, a reporter for The Oregonian, estimated about 20 people were stationed at the refuge’s bunkhouse—where women were cooking lunch—as well as at the work building and fire tower. In tweets, he described the scene as “calm, quiet, [and] no signs of damage.”

As the story unfolded Sunday, and the militants released online videos, national news and social media spectators feared violence—and observers challenged news outlets for describing the armed occupation as “peaceful.”

Not everyone in rural Oregon was happy to see the militia. Signs reading, “No Bundy Caliphate—Take your Hate Somewhere Else!” and “Protect the Blue—Militia Go Home” were posted on roads heading into Burns. Haney County schools, which were scheduled to reopen on Monday, will be closed all week because of the protest, authorities said.

At the refuge, men bundled in winter jackets and hunting camouflage milled about the parking lot, and a parked pickup truck blocked the gate. Several men, some strapped with knives and sidearms, refused to speak to a Daily Beast reporter at the scene.

While most participants appeared friendly and harmless, a few have reputations within hate groups such as the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers, The Daily Beast has learned.

On Sunday afternoon, federal officials told Portland’s KOIN 6 that the FBI would work with local law enforcement to end the takeover.

The Harney County sheriff’s office released a statement Sunday vowing to keep citizens safe.

“These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States,” Sheriff David Ward said, according to OPB.

Ammon Bundy said his motley crew planned to stay there indefinitely, KOIN 6 reported.

“We’re planning on staying here for years, absolutely,” Bundy told KOIN 6. “This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.”

Indeed, Jon Ritzheimer, a former Marine and Arizona militia activist, released a teary-eyed YouTube video days before the event, on Dec. 31, asking his children to be good while he was gone, before railing against “the oppression and tyranny” in Oregon.

“Your daddy swore an oath… to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and that’s why he couldn’t be with you on Christmas,” Ritzheimer said. “That’s why I can’t be with you on New Year’s.

“I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down, to fight against tyranny in this country,” Ritzheimer later said in the video, in which he’s sitting behind the wheel of a truck.

The Iraq War veteran concluded: “No matter what happens, no matter what lies are pushed out, just know that I stood for something. Don’t let it be in vain.”

A fellow extremist posted a video of Ritzheimer at the refuge, where he claimed to be “armed with the Constitution and a camera.”

“We will not fire unless fired upon, but we will stand and defend the Constitution,” Ritzheimer said.

In May 2015, Ritzheimer organized an anti-Muslim protest at a Phoenix mosque that drew 250 people, many of them armed, and invited them to draw cartoons of the prophet Muhammad following the Garland, Texas shooting.

After the Dallas-area attack, Ritzheimer began walking near the mosque waving an American flag and wearing a “Fuck Islam” T-shirt. He also tried raising $10 million on GoFundMe last summer, after claiming his life was being threatened because of his protests and that his family had to go into hiding. (The donation site came down as soon as the media spotted it.)

In October 2015, the bigot helped spur more than 20 anti-Muslim protests across the country called the “Global Rally for Humanity.

One month later, the FBI issued a warning to local authorities about Ritzheimer after he published a video of himself brandishing a gun and claiming he was heading to Hancock, New York to confront a Muslim group.

Ritzheimer was targeting Muslims of America, publisher of the The Islamic Post, which had called the Marine an “American Taliban,” the New York Daily News reported.

“Fuck you Muslims. We’re gonna stop at virtually every mosque along the way, flip them off and tell them to get fucked,” Ritzheimer says before brandishing his weapon.

The hate-mongerer is affiliated with the Three Percenters militia group, which takes its name from the mythical statistic that only 3 percent of American colonists supposedly fought in the war for independence.

Other rightwing activists descending on Oregon include Blaine Cooper, who at a 2013 town hall event told Sen. John McCain he’d have him arrested and tried for treason over his support of intervention in Syria.

Ryan Payne, an Army vet who claimed to organize militia snipers to target federal agents during Cliven Bundy’s Nevada standoff, was also present.

Payne once told the Missoula Independent he took charge “as a kind of on-the-ground commander.”

“We locked them down,” Payne said of the BLM agents. “We had counter-sniper positions on their sniper positions. We had at least one guy—sometimes two guys—per BLM agent in there. So, it was a complete tactical superiority… If they made one wrong move, every single BLM agent in that camp would’ve died.”

Brand Thornton, a political activist from Las Vegas who is now at the wildlife refuge, told The Daily Beast he was a member of the Southern Nevada Militia, which on its Facebook claims not to identify with racist, violent, or anti-government groups.

Thornton said he’s tried getting the word out about the Hammonds’ alleged plight for months. The weekend’s mission is “not haphazard at all; it’s very, very calculated,” he said.

“Whatever it takes,” Thornton told The Daily Beast. “I think we’re going to be here for at least two months, and possibly six months, that’s what I’m figuring. There’s a lot we got to do, we got a lot of education, educating people.”

Meanwhile, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, Cliven Bundy’s neighbor across the border who participated in the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff, told a reporter on Sunday that he’ll stay in Oregon “until the Constitution is upheld.”

The cowboy-hat enthusiast, who like Cliven, apparently refuses to pay grazing fees to the government, told The Daily Beast he “came up here just to support the Hammond family” because the Bundys did.

“When the Bundys came here, I said, ‘Well I rode with them once, I’ll ride with them again,’” Finicum told The Daily Beast.

“It’s atrocious what they’ve done,” he said. “How can you throw them in prison for something that happened 11 years ago. They served their prison time, and now they get thrown back in jail for the same thing again. That’s unconscionable.

“Let me be very clear, this is to be peaceful,” Finicum said. “We have no intent of pointing a gun at anybody, and why would they come and point a gun at us?

“These are just some rock buildings. This isn’t about the buildings, this is about issues, this is about ideas, it’s about the Constitution. If [we] weren’t [armed], they’d roll in here and taze us all and zip-tie us and be done by supper time.”

The Hammonds said they’d turn themselves in for their prison terms on Monday. The father, who has already served three months, and the son, who’s served a year in prison, said they lit the fires to reduce invasive plants and to protect their land from wildfires. Meanwhile prosecutors said that the duo set the fires to cover up their deer-poaching on federal lands.

In October, a judge ruled their prison terms were too short under federal law and ordered them to return to the clink for about four years.

Still, the Hammond family appeared to distance themselves from the militia antics. Dwight Hammond’s wife, Susan, told OPB, “I don’t even know what ‘occupying the refuge’ means.

“I don’t really know the purpose of the guys who are out there,” she said. “I kind of understand where they come from, as far as their priorities in life.”

 

By: Anna Bird and Kate Briquelet, The Daily Beast, January 3, 2016

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Ammon Bundy, Domestic Terrorism, Oregon Militiamen | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

   

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