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January 3, 2016

Militia Standoff in Oregon: Expected and Unexpected

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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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December 17, 2014

Apparent Extremist Threatens Police Officers and a City Employee

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Bran­don D. Gibbs

Earlier this month, an apparent anti-government extremist in Louisiana allegedly threatened to pepper spray police officers after they attempted to serve him with an arrest warrant for purportedly threatening a city employee.

On December 2, Brandon D. Gibbs, 29, of Gonzales, Louisiana, allegedly attempted to walk towards a police officer with a pepper spray can before officers arrested Gibbs on aggravated assault, resisting an officer, possession of marijuana, unlawful use of or in possession of body armor, in possession of narcotics and improper telephone communications. Wearing a face mask, a helmet with pepper spray attached and a knife strapped to his full body amour suit, Gibbs barely opened his door and asked police officers to show their hands before he walked out of his house at the time of his arrest. This incident presumably stemmed from a disagreement regarding his city water service.

Prior to his arrest, Gibbs reportedly called the city’s utility department and threatened a clerk for the department’s decision to turn off his water after he didn’t pay his bill. During the call, Gibbs purportedly claimed that “if you come back on my property, I’m going to put a bullet in a tire or in somebody’s head.”

According to statements Gibbs made to police officers and to activity on his Facebook account, his actions towards law enforcement and public officials appear to be influenced by anti-government extremist beliefs. After police officers charged Gibbs with resisting arrest in May 2013, he allegedly told officers that he trained every weekend in Maurepas, Louisiana, with a 500-person militia on shooting and military techniques. In one of his Facebook posts, Gibbs claimed that he studied abroad “in @ home” to learn “emprovised [sic] weapons specializm [sic] and “hand to hand combat” in order “to defend myself and my land against any treat [sic]” and to “make your entinctions [sic] absolutly [sic] clear shoot to kill.” The likes on his Facebook page include eight different militias and he is part of the “Three Percenters for Constitutional Troops and Law Enforcement” Facebook group, which harbors anti-government extremist beliefs.

Former militia movement adherent Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Alabama, created the Three Percent concept in 2008, based on the belief that only three percent of Americans will not disarm during a future revolution against the alleged tyranny of the American government. The concept itself is based on a historically incorrect myth that only three percent of the American population fought against the British during the American Revolution. In 2012, Georgia militia man Frederick Thomas claimed that Vanderboegh’s on-line novel Absolved, a “technical manual” to overthrow the so-called totalitarian government, inspired him to plot to kill government employees and blow up government buildings.

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September 13, 2013

Florida Cop-Killer Harbored Extremist Views

Social networking postings and links made by a Florida man who killed a Charlotte County deputy reveal a vehement loathing for President Barack Obama as well as sympathy for a variety of racist and anti-Muslim causes.jay-vanko

On Monday, August 2, Sergeant Mike Wilson of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office responded to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment building in Port Charlotte.  As he entered the stairwell of the building, Jaroslav “Jay” Vanko, 49, fired at the deputy from the top of the staircase, mortally wounding Wilson in the chest above his bulletproof vest.  Vanko killed himself soon after as police surrounded the building.

Why Vanko decided to resort to lethal violence is not clear and may never be known.  However, Vanko’s profile on the social networking website Facebook, as well as his postings elsewhere on that site, provide considerable insight into many of his views and opinions. 

Vanko’s on-line writings clearly reveal that, in the years since his arrival in the United States from the Czech Republic, he had developed an attachment to a variety of far right-wing causes that ranged from mainstream to extreme.  One of Vanko’s most cherished causes was the issue of gun rights, but he tended to be most emotional on the subject of President Barack Obama, describing Obama as a “snake” and a “scumbag” who “literally make me a sick” [language as in original posting].   According to Vanko, Obama was seeking a rise in criminal activity in order to justify mass gun confiscation.  “That is exactly what Lenin did,” Vanko wrote, accusing Obama of seeking to “spark [a] socialist revolution.”

As disturbing as such comments are, even more disturbing are some of the other causes that Vanko supported.  Among Vanko’s Facebook “likes” were a variety of racist, white supremacist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Facebook pages, including “American White History Month,” the anti-Muslim “United States of America Defence [sic] League,” “Islam Free Planet,” “The Counter Jihad Report,” “Boycott Halal,”  the anti-government extremist “Three Percenters III%” page,  the racist and anti-Muslim English Defence League,  the page for conspiracy theory talk show host Alex Jones, and many similar pages.

His “likes” also included several Facebook pages tied to white supremacist groups, including the page “Save the White People in South Africa,” associated with the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations and other white supremacist groups, as well as the page for the American Renaissance, a white supremacist magazine published by longstanding racist Jared Taylor.  In a posting he made to the South Africa page, Vanko offered his own opinion of the white race:  “I love whites, most beautiful people on planet.  We need to fight it on daily basis, not deal with savages on any level and ignore them everywhere” [language as in original posting].

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