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January 11, 2016 5

10 Mistakes Made By The Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupiers

On Jan­u­ary 2, a group of anti-government extremists—who would later dub them­selves Cit­i­zens for Con­sti­tu­tional Freedom—seized con­trol of the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge head­quar­ters in remote south­east Ore­gon. The seizure, led by Ammon Bundy, son of a Nevada rancher who had him­self engaged in a stand­off with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in 2014, was osten­si­bly con­ducted to protest the resen­tenc­ing of a father and son pair of south­east Ore­gon ranch­ers, Dwight and Steven Ham­mond, on fed­eral arson charges.

For more than a week now, Bundy and his two dozen or so followers—the num­bers change daily—have held the head­quar­ters, claim­ing they will relin­quish it only when the Ham­monds are released and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment turns con­trol of fed­eral land over to the “people.”

Ammon Bundy

Ammon Bundy

Yet the con­fronta­tion desired by Bundy and his fol­low­ers has not gone very well for them so far. Faced with deri­sion, lack of sup­port, and inter­nal bick­er­ing, as well as the dis­tinct absence of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment they had sought to vis­i­bly con­front, the occu­piers now seem some­what con­fused and hes­i­tant. The sce­nario has so far not played out in a man­ner that they hoped for or expected.

While the sit­u­a­tion at Mal­heur is still tense and there are plenty of ways that it could worsen—for exam­ple, frus­trated extrem­ists could try to esca­late the situation—it is clear that Bundy and the other occu­piers have made sev­eral key mis­cal­cu­la­tions in their planned coup-de-main. These include:

  1. The occu­piers did not secure the sup­port of the Ham­monds. Though Ammon Bundy and some of the other future occu­piers were in touch with the Ham­monds over their plight as early as Novem­ber 2014, they failed in their efforts to get the Ham­monds to coop­er­ate.   Report­edly, the Ham­monds would not let pro­test­ers use their prop­erty, which may be one rea­son why Bundy and his com­pan­ions chose to seize the wildlife refuge head­quar­ters instead. After the seizure, attor­neys for the Ham­mond fam­ily released a state­ment say­ing that the Ham­monds “respect the rule of law.” Dwight and Steven Ham­mond reported for prison as ordered.
  2. The occu­piers chose a poor tar­get. The Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge is not far from the Ham­mond ranch. More­over, it was empty at the time, mean­ing that it was a sym­bolic fed­eral build­ing that could be seized by Bundy with­out effort. How­ever, the build­ing is in a remote area away from pop­u­la­tion cen­ters and also most extrem­ists. In tak­ing the head­quar­ters, the extrem­ists vol­un­tar­ily iso­lated them­selves. More­over, the build­ing is not impor­tant in any way, nor does its occu­pa­tion par­tic­u­larly hin­der the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, or even the wildlife of the refuge. And, of course, the build­ing has noth­ing to do with the Ham­monds, nor did seiz­ing it affect their sit­u­a­tion in any pos­i­tive way.  In their own para­noid fash­ion, even some of the extrem­ists even­tu­ally began to do some second-guessing about the deci­sion to seize the head­quar­ters. On Jan­u­ary 7, Joe O’Shaughnessy (at first an occu­pier, then stay­ing in Burns, Ore­gon, to orga­nize sup­port for them) posted to Face­book ask­ing if any­one had “stopped to think how did they get some of the great­est men in the Patriot move­ment to go out in the mid­dle of nowhere to [occupy] a small building…at the cold­est time of the year at a time [when] every­one is broke because of the hol­i­days. I don’t know about you but this is all start­ing to look fishy to me.” O’Shaughnessy spec­u­lated that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had delib­er­ately left the place empty and the elec­tric­ity on because “the place was already pre-bugged.” In other words, some­how the fed­eral gov­ern­ment “tricked” them into occu­py­ing the refuge headquarters.
  3. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment did not act as expected. It is likely that the occu­piers expected some new ver­sion of the 2014 Bundy stand­off, in which anti-government extrem­ists were able to engage in a direct armed con­fronta­tion with gov­ern­ment and law enforce­ment and get the gov­ern­ment to back down, thus ener­giz­ing the extrem­ists and their sup­port­ers. How­ever, because of the poor tar­get cho­sen by the occu­piers, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has time on its side. Bar­ring other cir­cum­stances inter­ven­ing, the gov­ern­ment can, in effect, bide its time and let attri­tion take its toll. Almost imme­di­ately, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment adopted a delib­er­ately low-key approach, employ­ing restraint and avoid­ing media atten­tion. It has not given the extrem­ists what they sought the most: a confrontation.
  4. The occu­piers failed to get local sup­port. Ammon Bundy and his fol­low­ers assumed that their action would get the sup­port of the peo­ple of Burns and the sur­round­ing area, many of whom were to vary­ing degrees sym­pa­thetic to the sit­u­a­tion of the Ham­monds. How­ever, the major­ity of the occu­piers were not from the local area—or even from Oregon—but were out­siders pri­mar­ily from Ari­zona, Utah, and Nevada. More­over, they seemed to be seek­ing atten­tion for them­selves as much as, if not more than, for the Ham­monds.  The local fire chief told an Ore­gon­ian reporter that the group “seems like a bunch of peo­ple ready to shoot. I don’t want that in my county.”  Bundy and sev­eral of his fol­low­ers also alien­ated some of the local cit­i­zens who orig­i­nally had been will­ing to work with them.  Locals who had helped orga­nize a pro-Hammond rally shortly before the seizure sub­se­quently issued a state­ment claim­ing that the activ­i­ties of the Bundy group were “unfor­tu­nate and not related to and con­trary to” their own wishes.
  5. The local sher­iff “failed” the occu­piers once again. For some years, Ammon Bundy and other mem­bers of his fam­ily have argued that it is the role of the county sher­iff to “pro­tect” the peo­ple from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and have repeat­edly called on local sher­iffs to inter­vene in con­flicts with the fed­eral government—without suc­cess. Har­ness County Sher­iff David Ward came out early as a vocal oppo­nent of Bundy and his actions (and whose fam­ily report­edly got death threats as a result). In fact, Ward helped to crys­tal­lize com­mu­nity oppo­si­tion to Bundy and his fol­low­ers in a key com­mu­nity meet­ing. Ward sub­se­quently met with Bundy to offer him “safe pas­sage” out of the county, in an attempt to end the stand­off, but Bundy refused.
  6. The occu­piers failed to get sub­stan­tial sup­port from other extrem­ists. Not only did the Cit­i­zens for Con­sti­tu­tional Free­dom fail to get sup­port from the Ham­monds, local law enforce­ment, or the local com­mu­nity, but they have so far failed to get sub­stan­tial sup­port from other right-wing extrem­ists, whether locally or fur­ther afield. While some anti-government extrem­ists have indeed sup­ported the actions of Bundy and the other occu­piers, such sup­port has been far less than the occu­piers clearly hoped for. Bundy had already burned bridges with the anti-government Oath Keep­ers thanks to feuds dur­ing and after the 2014 Bundy Ranch stand­off, so it was no sur­prise that the Oath Keep­ers did not sup­port the Ore­gon seizure. But many other anti-government extrem­ists also con­demned the actions of the Ore­gon occu­piers, on a vari­ety of grounds. Oth­ers stated that they dis­agreed with the “oper­a­tion,” though they would come to the aid of the occu­piers if they were attacked by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. One rea­son that many extrem­ists were less than excited about the refuge head­quar­ters occu­pa­tion was because it didn’t seem to be doing any­thing to help the Ham­monds but would sim­ply put extrem­ists in harm’s way.
  7. Media atten­tion did not always work to the occu­piers’ advan­tage. As in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff—at which a great many of the refuge occu­piers were present—Bundy and the oth­ers hoped to attract media atten­tion to their actions. That cer­tainly hap­pened, espe­cially in the early days of the stand­off, with media vans crowd­ing the grounds of the head­quar­ters. How­ever, while the media brought them atten­tion, it wasn’t always pos­i­tive atten­tion. Very early on, reporters on the scene brought down to earth claims by the occu­piers that they num­bered around 150, observ­ing that the true num­ber might be as lit­tle as one-tenth of that fig­ure. Reporters wan­dered around the refuge, seek­ing inter­views with any and all occupiers—and the extrem­ists did not always come out of the inter­views look­ing good. More­over, jour­nal­ists exposed the crim­i­nal his­to­ries of some of the occu­piers and, in the case of occu­pier Brian Cav­a­lier, revealed that his claims to have served in the United States Marine Corps were false. Cav­a­lier allegedly left the refuge soon after.
  8. Social media is a two-edged sword. Bundy and the other occu­piers did not rely solely on the tra­di­tional main­stream media. From the begin­ning, many of the occu­piers have assid­u­ously used Face­book, Twit­ter, and other social media sites to com­mu­ni­cate to their friends and fol­low­ers and get their mes­sage out. How­ever, as many cor­po­ra­tions and politi­cians have learned, social media mes­sag­ing some­times has a way of get­ting out of con­trol. In this case, non-extremists, who vastly out­num­bered the extrem­ists on social media, began to use the plat­forms to mock and deride the occu­piers, cre­at­ing hash­tags such as #Yal­lQaeda and #Vanil­laI­SIS. After a cou­ple of occu­piers entreated their sup­port­ers to send sup­plies such as food and “snacks,” the notion of snacks became a viral meme with which the occu­piers were mer­ci­lessly pil­lo­ried. “Will com­mit trea­son for Fun­yuns” was just one of hun­dreds of mock­ing “snack” references.
  9. The occu­piers have suf­fered from inter­nal bick­er­ing. Never par­tic­u­larly orga­nized to begin with, the occu­piers have not showed any real cohe­sive­ness.   As time has worn on, dif­fer­ent occu­piers have argued and bick­ered over a vari­ety of issues, rang­ing from tac­tics to the pres­ence of women and chil­dren at the refuge. At least one of the occu­piers left the refuge as a result. The odds of such bick­er­ing are likely to increase with time.
  10. The occu­piers have no prac­ti­cal end game. As the one-sided stand­off wears on, time is likely to take its toll on more and more occu­piers. Some have already left, tem­porar­ily or per­ma­nently, to deal with “real life” issues such as work and fam­ily.  Because the fed­eral gov­ern­ment seems hardly likely to release the Ham­monds based on the demands of Bundy and his fol­low­ers, and because it cer­tainly will never engage in some sort of mass give­away of fed­eral land, the occu­piers are unlikely to get any sort of sat­is­fac­tion from the gov­ern­ment. And though a cou­ple of the most volatile occu­piers have given indi­ca­tions that they would wel­come some sort of armed encounter with the gov­ern­ment, oth­ers seem to have become more wary as the stand­off has pro­gressed. The pos­si­bil­ity that the occu­piers, espe­cially if more attri­tion occurs, will attempt to come up with some sort of face-saving ratio­nal­iza­tion for stand­ing down seems like a real pos­si­bil­ity. As long as cooler heads pre­vail, it may be the best oppor­tu­nity for end­ing the stand­off with no one being hurt and no “mar­tyrs” or “heroes” cre­ated, around whom other extrem­ists could rally.



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January 3, 2016 3

Militia Standoff in Oregon: Expected and Unexpected

jonritzheimerhammondjustification (1)

Jon Ritzheimer video jus­ti­fy­ing his actions

Armed anti-government activists asso­ci­ated with mili­tia groups and other right-wing extrem­ist move­ments seized con­trol of the head­quar­ters build­ing for the Mal­heur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan­u­ary 2, 2016, pre­cip­i­tat­ing what is, in effect, an armed stand­off with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. 
Though some sort of con­fronta­tion between mili­tia activists and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in the Pacific North­west has been brew­ing for months, the seizure itself is unusual and a new depar­ture for anti-government extrem­ists.
The action was taken because of anger over the sit­u­a­tion of father and son ranch­ers in Har­ney County in south­east Ore­gon.  The ranch­ers, Dwight Ham­mond, Jr., and Steven Ham­mond, were con­victed of arson for set­ting fire to around 130 acres of fed­eral land, but were given light sen­tences.  An appel­late court ruled that their sen­tences were too short and man­dated new sen­tences of 4–5 years.  They were ordered to report to fed­eral prison on Jan­u­ary 4.
Many peo­ple were sym­pa­thetic to the per­ceived plight of the Ham­monds, but it was right-wing anti-government extrem­ists in par­tic­u­lar who adopted the ranch­ers as a cause célèbre, using them to mobi­lize anger at the gov­ern­ment.  Their “adop­tion” of the Ham­monds was hardly sur­pris­ing, as mili­tia groups, Oath Keep­ers, Three Per­centers and other anti-government extrem­ists have actively been seek­ing con­fronta­tions with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for more than a year now, thanks to the Cliven Bundy stand­off of 2014.
Cliven Bundy is a Nevada rancher who got into trou­ble with the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment for graz­ing his cat­tle on fed­eral land with­out proper per­mits.  In March 2014, the BLM began to remove Bundy’s cat­tle from fed­eral land but were stopped by a group of armed pro­test­ers.  This pre­cip­i­tated the stand­off, in which right-wing extrem­ists from around the coun­try made their way to the Bundy ranch to “pro­tect” Cliven Bundy and his prop­erty from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.  Bundy, who shared some of their anti-government views, wel­comed the sup­port.  Dur­ing the stand­off, armed extrem­ists allegedly pointed weapons at fed­eral and local law enforce­ment offi­cers. 
In the end, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment backed down and stopped the con­fis­ca­tion oper­a­tion, leav­ing Bundy and his mili­tia sup­port­ers to declare vic­tory.  The inci­dent was viewed by the mili­tia move­ment and related groups as a huge suc­cess and one that should be repli­cated else­where if pos­si­ble. 
Since the Bundy stand­off, anti-government extrem­ists have actively been seek­ing other future “Bundys” around which they could rally.  Sev­eral of the prime can­di­dates for future con­fronta­tions have been located in the Pacific North­west.  In par­tic­u­lar, anti-government extrem­ists have ral­lied in 2015 to “help” mine own­ers in Ore­gon (the Sugar Pine Mine near Mer­lin) and Mon­tana (the White Hope Mine near Lin­coln) who each had dis­putes with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, caus­ing many to fear the pos­si­bil­ity of some sort of armed clash.
In the end, how­ever, it was the Ham­monds who ended up being the new “Bundys,” though they them­selves do not appear to have sup­ported or con­doned the seizure of the fed­eral build­ing and have said they will report to prison as ordered.  This does not seem to have deterred the activists, sev­eral of whom have direct ties to the Bundy stand­off.  Indeed, two of the peo­ple involved, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are in fact sons of Cliven Bundy.  Mili­tia activist Ryan Payne of Mon­tana is another vet­eran of the Bundy stand­off allegedly involved in the seizure.  Also promi­nent is Ari­zona extrem­ist Jon Ritzheimer, who has recently orga­nized anti-Muslim events and threat­ened to arrest elected offi­cials.
But if some sort of clash was expected and if many of the play­ers involved are famil­iar faces, what is def­i­nitely new is the spe­cific tac­tic of seiz­ing and hold­ing the wildlife refuge head­quar­ters. 
Right-wing stand­offs and con­fronta­tions with gov­ern­ment or law enforce­ment over­whelm­ingly take one of two forms.  The first is when extrem­ists rally to “pro­tect” per­ceived vic­tims of gov­ern­ment, such as peo­ple who face their home or land being seized for non-payment of taxes.  The Bundy stand­off is an exam­ple of such a con­fronta­tion, which takes place at the loca­tion of the per­ceived vic­tim.  The sec­ond is the typ­i­cal “bar­ri­caded felon” sit­u­a­tion in which an extrem­ist who has com­mit­ted a crime or is a fugi­tive has holed up some­where and will not sur­ren­der.  The Mon­tana Free­man stand­off of 1996 was such a con­fronta­tion. 
In this case, how­ever, right-wing extrem­ists proac­tively seized and are hold­ing a gov­ern­ment building—a sym­bolic tar­get.  Such a tac­tic has his­tor­i­cally been far more com­mon with left-wing activists or extrem­ists, includ­ing the seizure of many uni­ver­sity build­ings in the 1960s and 70s, as well as other loca­tions or places, such as the takeover of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973.
Because this is a new tac­tic for anti-government extrem­ists, it remains unclear how the sce­nario is likely to play itself out.  But since the build­ing they seized was empty at the time and there is no hostage sit­u­a­tion, it is likely that fed­eral author­i­ties will be slow and delib­er­ate in their response in order to min­i­mize the pos­si­bil­ity of violence.

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March 15, 2013 0

Police Shoot Florida Sovereign Citizen During Standoff

A four-hour stand­off between police and an anti-government extrem­ist ended with the fatal shoot­ing of the extrem­ist in Navarre, Florida, on March 9.  Mem­bers of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Depart­ment SWAT team killed Jef­fery Allen Wright, 55, while attempt­ing to serve felony arrest war­rants on mul­ti­ple charges related to counterfeiting.

After deputies first arrived at Wright’s home, Wright fled to the garage, then up the stairs to the sec­ond story of the garage, where he bar­ri­caded the stair­well and fired a shot from a hand­gun.  Refus­ing com­mands to sur­ren­der, Wright allegedly repeat­edly dared police to “come and get him” and warned deputies that if they came upstairs they would “not come back down.”   The offi­cers called the SWAT team to the scene.  Wright report­edly did not respond to the over­tures of inves­ti­ga­tors and an attempt by the police to use tear gas was unsuccessful.

Later, Wright allegedly moved some of the items bar­ri­cad­ing the stairs and sat down at the top of the stair­well, hold­ing a gun.  Accord­ing to police, Wright pointed the hand­gun at SWAT offi­cers at the bot­tom of the stairs, caus­ing sev­eral of them to fire at Wright, killing him.  

The arrest war­rants against Wright stemmed from a traf­fic stop inci­dent in Sep­tem­ber 2012 when a deputy pulled Wright over for speed­ing.  Wright, an adher­ent of the anti-government sov­er­eign cit­i­zen move­ment, did not believe that the gov­ern­ment had any author­ity over him.  He was report­edly bel­liger­ent dur­ing the traf­fic stop, refus­ing to pro­vide a driver’s license or get out of his vehi­cle.  He pro­vided the arrest­ing offi­cer with an “Affi­davit of Reser­va­tion of Rights,” a phony sov­er­eign cit­i­zen doc­u­ment designed to warn offi­cers that actions against them are a vio­la­tion of the Uni­form Com­mer­cial Code (UCC) .  Wright was ulti­mately charged with resist­ing an offi­cer and obstruc­tion of jus­tice, and cited for not hav­ing a valid tag or vehi­cle reg­is­tra­tion.  He later attempted to use fraud­u­lent money orders (a com­mon sov­er­eign cit­i­zen tac­tic) to pay the Santa Rosa County Clerk’s office for the cita­tions he received dur­ing the traf­fic stop; this resulted in the coun­ter­feit­ing charges.

In 2010 and again in 2012, Wright filed UCC doc­u­ments  as part of a sov­er­eign cit­i­zen tac­tic known as “redemp­tion,” a com­pli­cated set of con­spir­acy the­o­ries that allege the gov­ern­ment cre­ated fic­ti­tious dupli­cates of all Amer­i­can cit­i­zens to use as col­lat­eral for its inter­na­tional debt.  In the 2012 doc­u­ment, Wright uses typ­i­cal sov­er­eign cit­i­zen phrase­ol­ogy and sym­bol­ogy, such as declar­ing that his address is “with­out the U.S.” and putting brack­ets around the zip code (sov­er­eign cit­i­zens have spe­cific con­spir­acy the­o­ries about zip codes).

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