The Bundy bust-up

Charges rain down on militant leaders of Bundy family standoffs in Nevada and Oregon.


After nearly two years, the federal government is dropping the hammer on Cliven Bundy, his sons, and armed militants who faced off with federal law enforcement during the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada. Since Feb. 10, 2016, U.S. attorneys have arrested and indicted 19 individuals, starting with Cliven Bundy, on conspiracy, assault, threat and a list of other charges for their roles in the Nevada standoff.

Bundy, who claims he does not recognize federal government authority and defiantly and illegally grazed his cattle on public lands for years, faced the seizure of 400 cattle in April 2014; his call for support to militia and “Patriot” groups led hundreds of antigovernment followers to show up at his ranch. On April 12, as Bureau of Land Management and other law-enforcement officers guarded the corralled cattle, at least 200 supporters, many brandishing weapons, began surrounding and threatening the agents, coercing the release of the cows and a retreat by the feds. The February indictment against Bundy details the event as a highly coordinated effort, starting with the recruitment of supporters from across the nation through false claims and leading to the siege and threats on the federal officers.

Rancher Cliven Bundy photographed earlier this year near his ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, after visiting the family of LaVoy Finicum, who had just died outside the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where some occupiers remained. When Bundy travelled to Oregon in support of the occupation, he was arrested.
AP Photo/John Locher

Environmentalists and other critics of Bundy viewed the government’s submission and the lack of charges as a dangerous message. The federal stand-down looked like a victory for Cliven Bundy, and it likely emboldened his sons, Ryan and Ammon, and Ryan Payne to lead the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, this winter.

That occupation lasted 41 days, after the Bundy brothers again called on Patriot and militia groups to protest the prison sentences of two local ranchers. The takeover ultimately morphed into a broader demonstration supporting the transfer of federal lands to states and local governments. It culminated in the Jan. 26 arrest of the Bundy brothers, Payne, and others, and the death of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum, a supporter from Arizona. An Oregon State Police officer shot Finicum during a confrontation at a highway blockade and vehicle stop in Harney County.

So far, U.S. attorneys have charged 25 Malheur occupiers with just a single federal conspiracy charge. During a March 3 visit to Oregon, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said additional charges would be issued “very soon.” A district judge recently told prosecutors to hurry up, noting the defendants’ right to a speedy trial, which is very tentatively scheduled for late April.

For those charged in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff, a trial is likely still months away. In a statement on the Nevada charges, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said the indictments stem from an “investigation (that) began the day after the assault against federal law enforcement officers and continues to this day.” FBI Special Agent in Charge Laura Bucheit called the indictments and arrests “an irrefutable message to the American people that our determination remains steadfast to protect them and pursue individuals who participate in violent acts of this nature.”

That investigation is overdue, says Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a progressive nonprofit that tracks militia activity and hate groups. “The arrests of many of those involved in the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is a welcome development that may have the effect of slowing down this kind of lawless activism and the ‘Patriot’ movement in general,” Potok says. “After all, it was the delay of almost two years in making arrests in the original 2014 Bundy standoff in Nevada that encouraged Bundy’s sons and others to seize the Malheur facility to begin with. These people need to understand that they cannot break the law with impunity.”

Within Patriot group circles, the response has been more like paranoia, outrage, and some tactical patience. “This action is leading to justifiable speculation and worries that others who assisted in security operations and who were at Bunkerville to show solidarity with the cause of resolving western land disputes may now find themselves rounded up,” David Codrea, a columnist for GUNS Magazine, wrote on the Oath Keepers website on February 18. “… It may be that a massive operation is in the works, but to react imprudently without actual intelligence is a good way to escalate things to the favor of those who wish to discredit the Patriot movement.”

So, who are the individuals being charged? Here’s a rundown of several leaders and key players who now face federal charges from one or both episodes:

Cliven Bundy, 69: Patriarch of the Bundy family, Cliven was arrested Feb. 10, as he landed at the Portland airport to support his sons and the dwindling Malheur occupation, which he had initially opposed. Charges against Cliven from the 2014 ranch standoff include conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, interference by extortion, and obstruction of justice. He is named as the leader and “chief beneficiary” of the armed resistance by the U.S Attorney’s Office. The various counts could result in decades in prison and fines of up to $250,000 per count.

Ammon Bundy, 40: An Idaho car-fleet manager and son of Cliven, Ammon, along with his brother, Ryan, and Ryan Payne (see below), began organizing protests in Oregon last fall, on behalf of the Hammonds, the ranchers facing prison time for arson charges, leading to the Jan. 2 occupation of the Malheur refuge. Ammon said in a YouTube video that he received a divine message from God to defend the Hammonds. He was also by his father’s side during the 2014 standoff, and was tasered by federal agents a few days before the armed showdown. He faces charges from both cases. On March 4, Ammon told the Oregonian that, while in jail, “he takes inspiration from the jailhouse words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. about the importance of civil disobedience.”

Ryan Bundy, 43: Another one of Cliven’s sons, and a leader of the Malheur occupation, Ryan also faces charges from both Nevada and Oregon. He called the case against the Hammonds “an example of the terrorism that the federal government is placing upon the people.” He also claimed the occupiers would vacate the refuge if local community members asked them to leave, a move that never happened despite several such requests. Ryan, Ammon and their father are all being held in Oregon’s Multnomah County Detention Center, but are denied visits with each other and have all been denied bail as flight risks and community dangers.

Melvin Bundy, 41, and David Bundy, 39: Two more sons of Cliven who were also arrested and named in the Nevada indictments. Mel was also on the scene during the Malheur occupation. David was specifically cited for photographing federal agents during the Nevada ranch standoff.

Brian Cavalier, 44: The self-proclaimed Bundy family bodyguard, Cavalier has at times identified himself in Internet videos and interviews as “Booda Bear” and “Fluffy Unicorn.” Cavalier was part of both the 2014 and 2016 standoffs, and was in the car with Ammon Bundy on Jan. 26 during the highway stop that led to Finicum’s death. He has claimed to be a retired Marine, but the military reports there are no records of his service. He was also denied bail and remains in jail.

Gerald DeLemus, 61: A New Hampshire Tea Party leader, former Marine, and husband of a Republican state representative, DeLemus was indicted as a “mid-level leader” of the 2014 Nevada standoff after he traveled cross-country to support the Bundys. He currently serves as a co-chair for Veterans for Trump in New Hampshire, backing the real-estate mogul for president. Trump criticized the Oregon occupiers and has so far not supported giving control of public lands to states or local governments. DeLemus did briefly visit the Malheur occupation, although he called the armed takeover a “tactical mistake.” He gained notoriety in 2015, following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist shootings in Paris, for planning an art contest to draw the prophet Mohammad; any depictions of the prophet are considered offensive by many Muslims and DeLemus eventually cancelled the contest.

Ryan Payne, 32: An Army veteran who fought in Iraq, Payne founded a militia group, the West Mountain Rangers, in western Montana in 2012, and cofounded Operation Mutual Aid, a network of militia groups and antigovernment supporters, in 2013. He participated and emerged as a security chief in both the Nevada and Oregon standoffs, after personally calling Cliven Bundy in April 2014 and asking how he could help. In a 2014 Missoula Independent profile, Payne said he believed in “an effort by some Jews to control the world,” questioned whether slavery ever truly existed in the U.S., and claimed that "in most states you have the lawful authority to kill a police officer that is unlawfully trying to arrest you.”

Shawna Cox, 59: A Tea Party leader in Kanab, Utah, Cox emerged as a frequent spokeswoman for the Bundys during the 2014 showdown and calls herself Cliven's “personal secretary.” In 2009, Cox organized an illegal ATV trail ride through Paria Canyon within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, claiming the route and others closed to motorized use by the BLM belonged to the county, not the federal government. (No federal charges were ever filed.) She was not named in the Nevada indictments, but was arrested in Oregon and in the vehicle stopped by law enforcement when Finicum was shot by police. She was one of only two female defendants named in the cases and faces the same conspiracy charge as other Malheur occupiers. Cox was released on bail and placed on house arrest in early February, and then counter-sued the U.S. government for malicious prosecution, claiming “damages from the works of the devil in excess of 666,666,666,666.66.”

Joseph O’Shaughnessy, 43: A member of the Oath Keepers, a militant Patriot group of former and current military and law-enforcement officers, and a leader of an Arizona militia, O’Shaughnessy showed up at the Bundy ranch in 2014. A year after the Nevada standoff, he told High Country News the episode was a great recruitment strategy, and he had received 600 applications for new militia members. He was also among the core group that organized the 2016 Malheur occupation, and issued frequent updates from the refuge via social media. O’Shaughnessy was arrested the same night of the vehicle blockade and shooting of Finicum, but was later released and placed on house arrest. He now also faces charges from the Nevada case.

Eric Parker, 32: Known as “the Bundy sniper,” Parker gained attention after a Reuters photographer snapped images of him pointing a rifle at government officials from a highway bridge during the Nevada standoff. He is the vice president of Three Percent for Idaho, part of the Three Percenters paramilitary movement, which began in 2008 to resist any form of gun control.

Peter Santilli, 50: A conservative Internet radio host based in Ohio, Santilli broadcast interviews from the Malheur occupation on his YouTube channel. He has denied taking part in the actual occupation, but he also identifies himself as a member of the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, according to the government criminal complaint from the Oregon case. Santilli, who remains in jail, also faces charges for his involvement during the Bundy Ranch fracas in 2014, including inciting people to travel to the ranch for “unlawful purposes.”

Jon Ritzheimer, 32: An Arizona resident and former Marine, Ritzheimer joined the Bundy cause in Oregon this year after gaining notoriety as a Confederate flag-waver and vocal, armed anti-Muslim activist at Arizona rallies. In the government’s criminal complaint from the Malheur occupation, a citizen identified Ritzheimer and said he harassed her for wearing a BLM shirt and threatened to burn her house down. He faces charges in Oregon and has been denied bail.

Blaine Cooper, 36: Cooper and his wife took part in both the Nevada and Oregon standoffs, and faces charges from both cases. During the Malheur occupation, he frequently dressed in camo, reportedly got in a fistfight with another occupier, and allowed an interviewer to repeatedly call him a Marine during a national TV interview even though he never served. After disappearing from the refuge following the Jan. 26 arrests and shooting, Cooper was arrested in mid-February.

Others arrested from the Oregon occupation include Sean Anderson, 47, and Sandy Anderson, 48, both of Idaho, David Fry, 27, of Ohio, and Jeff Banta, 46, of Nevada (the final four occupiers at the refuge); Dylan Anderson, 34, of Utah (a.k.a. “Captain Moroni”); Jason Patrick, 43, of Georgia; Duane Ehmer, 45, of Oregon; Geoffrey Stanek, 26, of Oregon; Kenneth Medenbach, 62, of Oregon; Jason Blomgren, 41, of North Carolina; Wesley Kjar, 32, of Utah; Eric Flores, 22, of Washington; Corey Lequieu, 44, of Nevada, Darryl Thorn, 31, of Washington; and Neil Wampler, 68, of California. One man, Travis Cox, remains at large.

Additional individuals arrested from the Nevada standoff are O. Scott Drexler, 44, of Idaho, Richard Lovelien, 52, of Oklahoma, Steven Stewart, 36, of Idaho, Todd Engel, 48, of Idaho, Gregory Burleson, 52, of Arizona, Micah McGuire, 31, of Arizona, and Jason Woods, 30, of Arizona.

Joshua Zaffos is an HCN correspondent based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Follow him @jzaffos.

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