MALHEUR WILDLIFE REFUGE STANDOFF, JANUARY TO FEBRUARY, 2016
On January 2, two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, returned to prison to complete their sentence for setting fire to federal land in 2001, sparking the armed militia and anti-government occupation of a federal compound south of Burns, Oregon. Several of the key figures behind the occupation also participated in the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014 with federal authorities in Nevada.
Since the end of the occupation, 38 individuals have been arrested and indicted for their involvement in either the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff, the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, or both.
INTIMIDATION OF LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT
During the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January and February, militia and anti-government extremists harassed law enforcement authorities and their families, threatened the use of illegal “common law grand juries,” and solicited sympathy from first responders to gain support. Federal authorities have charged 26 in the occupation with conspiring to hinder US Fish and Wildlife Service employees and officers from performing their duties.
- According to a federal indictment, the defendants threatened to use violence against any officer attempting to remove them from the refuge. Two of the occupiers—Ryan Bundy and Robert “LaVoy” Finicum—stated they were “willing to kill and be killed.” According to a local official, occupation supporters surveilled the movements of officers and their families, confronted federal personnel about their employment status, and threatened violence. The affidavit cites five harassment incidents, including suspected militia members following a minor—the son of a police chief.
- Occupiers expressed their intent to convene “common law grand juries”—self-established courts that hold no legal authority—to indict federal officials involved in the prosecution of two Oregon ranchers. Bruce Doucette, a sovereign citizen and self-proclaimed judge, used social media to recruit “marshals to uphold the Constitution,” who would apprehend public officials to appear before the “juries.”
- Occupiers tried to gain law enforcement support through public statements and meetings with officials and appealing to their oaths of office and patriotism. In a joint press conference with the leader of the occupation, the Fire Marshal of Harney County, where the occupation took place, resigned to support the siege.
OVERVIEW OF OPERATIONAL SECURITY MEASURES
Participants in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge effectively used physical patrols and counter surveillance to secure their positions. The occupiers, however, were lax in other security areas such as seeking publicity that inadvertently revealed operational plans to law enforcement.
- The occupiers maintained physical control of the compound by manning checkpoints and blockades, as well as a guard tower. Additionally, they refused entry to individuals threatening their authority and on at least one occasion resorted to violence. Ammon Bundy refused to publicly disclose the number of occupiers in the refuge.
- Occupiers also took measures to shield themselves from law enforcement surveillance by removing cameras and using aliases to disguise their identities. Supporters from outside the refuge provided updates on law enforcement activity and attempted to identify undercover FBI agents, often posting the agents’ personal information on social media.
- Despite these effective security measures, the occupiers frequently allowed media and supporters to visit and film their activities. One of the occupiers was a self-proclaimed reporter who live streamed much of the occupation, which allowed the FBI to track occupiers’ movements and staging positions.
ANTI-GOVERNMENT EXTREMISTS: DIVIDED AFTER OREGON
Following the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in Oregon this year, anti-government extremists will find it difficult to unite and collaborate because of limited support from national and local leaders, internal division, and arrests of key occupiers. Furthermore, because federal authorities and anti-government extremists negotiated an end to the occupation, large-scale confrontations—a tactic the movement has used in the past—are less likely in the next three to six months.
- Despite Malheur occupiers’ repeated calls for support, the broader anti-government movement made little effort to assist their efforts. The two largest anti-government groups—the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters—released official statements distancing themselves from the occupation. The Oregon chapter of the Three Percenters, another anti-government group, opposed the siege, stating the occupation was contrary to its vision and increased the risk of government scrutiny.
- Key figures in the anti-government movement believed the occupation was a “false flag” that “federal provocateurs” used to impose martial law. Other members labeled the occupiers’ actions as misrepresenting the movement, while those supporting the occupation criticized the opposition as dishonoring and dividing the community.
- Following negotiations, federal authorities arrested 26 occupiers, many of whom participated in the Bundy ranch standoff in 2014, including Cliven, Ammon, and Ryan Bundy, as well as Jon Ritzheimer and Ryan Payne. These arrests, as well as the resulting negotiations, will reduce the likelihood—at least in the near-term—of confrontations between the federal government and anti-government groups.