Armed occupation of Malheur refuge was ‘dress rehearsal’ for violent takeover of nation’s Capitol, extremist watchdogs say

Updated Jan 08, 2021; Posted Jan 07, 2021

U.S. Capitol on lockdown
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)Getty Images

Facebook ShareTwitter Share5,214sharesBy Maxine Bernstein | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Five years ago this month, Ammon Bundy led a 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge after protesting the return to federal prison of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fire to public land.

Bundy was acquitted of all charges after his arrest on allegations of conspiracy and impeding federal employees through intimidation, threat or force.

On Wednesday, the extraordinary images of a violent mob of right-wing Trump supporters storming the nation’s Capitol, incited by a president who refused to accept the 2020 election results, were no surprise to groups that have tracked extremists in the West.

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, called the 2016 refuge occupation a “dress rehearsal for what we saw at the Capitol.” The center, based in Denver, advocates for land and water conservation in the West.

“The extremist ideologies and tactics that led to the violent occupation of public lands in Oregon are the same ideologies that President Trump has stoked among his supporters,” she said in a statement Thursday.

“You can draw a straight line from the Bundy Ranch standoff and Malheur takeover to the Trump insurrection in Washington,” she said.

Before MalheurAmmon Bundy, father Cliven Bundy and brother Ryan Bundy were accused of rallying militia members and armed supporters to stop federal officers in April 2014from impounding Bundy Ranch cattle in Nevada. Cliven Bundy owed more than $1 millionin grazing fees and penalties that he refused to pay for two decades after federal authorities moved to limit his cattle’s access to public land. Their federal prosecution in Nevada was dismissed due to prosecutorial misconduct.

On the family’s Bundy Ranch Facebook page,a post with Cliven Bundy’s name under itcited support for the insurrection at the Capitol.

The post Wednesday read:“You can’t clean the swamp by standing off at a distance and smelling it. At Bundy Ranch we had a job to do, go get it done, and We the People went forward and finished the job.”

It also praised Donald Trump: “Today President Trump had hundreds of thousands of people and he pointed the way – pointed towards congress and nodded his head go get the job done. We the People did clear the chambers of Congress and 100,000 should have spent the night in the halls and 100,000 should have protected them. Trump blew his trump of retreat and the sun goes down.”

Facebook post
Facebook post on Bundy Ranch page, Jan. 6, 2020, with Cliven D. Bundy as the author.

What happened in Washington, D.C., was just the latest in violent clashes and standoffs by right-wing extremist groups,according to watchdog organizations.

Erik Molvar, executive director of the advocacy group Western Watersheds Project, said the mob mayhem in Washington was a “direct result of a growing movement of domestic terrorists within the United States, paired with a systematic failure by law enforcement to bring them to justice.”

The nonprofit conservation group has sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to challenge the return of a grazing permit to the Oregon ranchers whose prison sentences sparked the refuge occupation. Trump administration pardoned father Dwight Hammond Jr. and son Steven Hammond in 2018.

Ammon Bundy, reached Thursday, said he was in the mountains and wasn’t tracking what occurred at the Capitol, yet Bundy had urged people to attend Thursday’s rally in Washington, D.C. and “stand for a constitutional republic” through a video posted last month by a group he’s helped form called People’s Right. “Don’t wear a mask and stand for freedom,” he urged on the video.

On Thursday, he told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he believes legislators meet behind closed doors without public oversight, constituting a “deliberate attack on personal liberty.” He was arrested twice in two days in August for protests at the Idaho Legislature and in October caused the cancellation of an Idaho high school football game after he refused to wear a mask or leave school grounds.

“It’s dangerous to all of us forofficials in a government capacity to claim rights that belong to the individual, whether it’s travel, what you wear over your face, or when you can go to church,” said Bundy, who has been protesting coronavirus emergency safeguards. “I also don’t believe a republican representative form of government should make decisions without public oversight and without the participation of the people.”

Greg Magarian, a law professor at Washington University Law School in St. Louis., said there’s a significant difference between what the nation witnessed in Washington this week and racial and social justice protests in the last year.

“When a group violently attacks other people or attacks a public place in a way that puts other people’s lives or safety in jeopardy, that’s a severe crime. It’s a violent riot, an attack,” he wrote Thursday for an in-house university publication. “When a group violently attacks a government institution in an effort to change the lawful governmental order, that’s insurrection. It’s terrorism.”

As other examples of insurrection, he cited the Malheur takeover, the militia takeover of the Michigan state Capitol in April and the militia-backed shutdown of Oregon’s Capitol in June 2019.

“The takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, incited by the president of the United States and his agents, was terrorism, insurrection and an attempted violent coup,” he wrote.

In an interview Thursday, Magarian also discussed similarities between the Malheur refuge occupation and the siege of the U.S. Capitol.

“These are both instances where people essentially trespassed on federal property, overwhelmed law enforcement and seized federal institutions by force,” he said.

— Maxine Bernstein

1 thought on “Armed occupation of Malheur refuge was ‘dress rehearsal’ for violent takeover of nation’s Capitol, extremist watchdogs say

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s