The armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon is now on its tenth day and is showing no immediate signs of letting up. The occupiers, led by Ammon Bundy, have demanded that the federal government hand over the refuge to the citizens of Harney County. Bundy’s actions reflect the decades-long Sagebrush Rebellion tradition in which ranchers, miners and other land users have sparred with federal agencies over how public lands are managed. Many of Bundy’s fellow occupiers at Malheur are members of militia groups who are new to the rebellion, but who share a constitutionalist, right-wing ideology.
For several days, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been present at an ad hoc staging area at the Burns Municipal Airport. The agency has been mum about its activities other than that it is monitoring the situation.
Last week, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward met in person with Ammon Bundy to ask him and the group of occupiers to leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but those conversations appear to have had few actionable results.
This past weekend, a group of four militiamen from around the Pacific Northwest visited Bundy at the refuge, the FBI staging area, and Sheriff Ward, in what they say is an attempt to end the current stalemate and promote dialogue. Below here are the key players.
Ammon Bundy: The bearded, cowboy-hatted leader of the armed occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is the son of the notorious scofflaw rancher of southern Nevada, Cliven Bundy. Ammon was on the Bundy Ranch in April 2014 when his father faced down federal officials, and made a name for himself by getting Tasered by those same officials. He started the Harney County Committee of Safety back in December as a protest against the re-sentencing of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond for committing arson in 2001 and 2006. He's the listed registrant for ourchildrensfreedom.com, which has him living in Emmet, Idaho, but his Facebook page says he lives in Phoenix, where he owns a fleet maintenance business in Tempe, Arizona.
rhetoric suggests that the resident of Mesquite, Nevada, is even more strident in his anti-Bureau of Land Management views than his brother Ammon. Ryan was part of the Bundy Ranch standoff and attended the May 2014 Recapture Canyon protest in southeastern Utah, where he butted heads with organizer Phil Lyman. After Lyman was convicted for his role in the protest, Bundy went on the attack on Facebook, calling Lyman "a traitor to the cause of freedom" for "allowing himself to be used as a precedent to strengthen the federal overreach position."Ryan Bundy: The oldest of Cliven Bundy's 14 children, Ryan's heated
videos over the last year or so in which he chronicles his ongoing battle with the BLM over water, grazing and the like. Finicum calls his fight "One Cowboy's Stand for Freedom," and even sells merchandise.
Ryan Payne: Although he has not been very visible during the occupation, this founder of Montana's West Mountain Rangers "militia" has been an important presence on the refuge. He sent out the original call to self-proclaimed militia members summoning them to help at the Bundy Ranch. Payne is a veteran of the Iraq War, and may be the most extreme of the refuge occupiers. To learn more, read this in-depth 2014 profile of Payne by Ted McDermott of the Missoula Independent.
words to Oregon Public Broadcasting's Amanda Peacher: "I didn't come here to shoot, I came here to die." He identifies himself only as "Capt. Moroni" or "Gladiator," but at the Recapture Canyon protest, he told me his name was Dylan Anderson, of Provo, Utah, and that he had been on the front lines of the Bundy standoff, as well."Capt. Moroni": His floppy camo hat, kind eyes and youthful grin stand in sharp contrast to his
Todd MacFarlane: This Utah attorney arrived on the scene of the occupation a few days after it began, to represent Finicum and his family. He has since also become one of the spokesmen for the occupiers. He told a St. George, Utah, radio station that the Bundys "haven't taken over anything per se," implying that they are just sort of visiting public land. MacFarlane has a long history with this sort of thing, representing ranchers in their fights against the BLM. He is a contributor to the Pahvant Post, and his opinion pieces range from attacking BLM, to standing up for the right to sell and drink raw milk.
THE RELUCTANT SUPPORT GROUP (They're staying in Burns, not the refuge.)
Joseph Rice: This former National Guardsman lives in southern Oregon, and is a co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network. He became involved in the Hammond support movement in the fall when Ammon Bundy first ramped up his social media campaign around the issue. Rice is also the head of the Josephine County chapter of the Oath Keepers, a national constitutionalist group started in 2009 for former military and law enforcement. The last Sagebrush Rebellion event Rice was involved in occurred last spring, when Rice helped defend two gold miners in Josephine County who were being badgered by the BLM. Rice orchestrated “Operation Gold Rush,” in which reportedly hundreds of self-described patriots passed through the area.
Rice opposes the Malheur occupation but believes the Hammonds were wrongly sentenced and that the federal government has too much control over public land management. Over the weekend, Rice was part of a group that visited Ammon Bundy at the refuge, Sheriff Ward, and the FBI in what they say is an attempt to de-escalate the situation.
Brandon Curtiss: President of the Idaho Three Percent and a co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network, who helped organize the protest in Burns on Jan. 2 to support the Hammonds. Along with Rice, Curtiss is part of the militia leadership that was blindsided by Bundy’s decision to take over the wildlife refuge. "There's a better way to go about things," Curtiss recently told Newsweek.
Brandon Rapolla: This former Marine is a member of Oath Keepers, head of militia group Oregon Tactical, and a leader of the Pacific Patriots Network. He was in Clark County, Nevada to support Cliven Bundy during the standoff with the BLM in April, 2014.
Bj Soper: Originally from Nevada, Soper is now a resident of central Oregon. He is a co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network and a coordinator for central Oregon Oath Keepers. Soper helped out during Operation Gold Rush at Sugar Pine Mine in Josephine County last spring.
Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor and Tay Wiles is the online editor of High Country News.