The United States Fish and Wildlife Service plans to expand hunting and fishing opportunities at 13 national wildlife refuges across nine states, including opening up big game hunting in Colorado’s 92,000-acre Baca National Wildlife Refuge for the first time.
That’s good news for America’s hunters, who will have more chances to target big game species such as elk and deer, as well as prairie chickens, quail, pheasant, ducks, doves, and pigeons.
But conservationists fear the move will expose wildlife to lead poisoning and other threats.
“The best purpose for our national wildlife refuges is the original purpose: to provide an inviolate sanctuary for the protection of our native wild spaces and wildlife,” said Jennifer Place, program associate at Born Free USA in Washington, D.C.
A new statewide poll by Remington Research Group shows that Alaska voters strongly support an end to cruel and unsporting practices used to kill bears, wolves and coyotes on the state’s National Wildlife Refuges.
On Jan. 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed changes to regulations governing non-subsistence hunting on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. These changes are designed to uphold the purposes of the refuge system to conserve species and habitats in their natural diversity, and to ensure that the biological integrity, diversity and environmental health of the National Wildlife Refuge system benefits Americans now and into the future. Based upon this new poll, the majority of Alaska voters support such changes as it would end cruel methods of killing wildlife on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.
The poll also shows that many oppose using bait, such as rotting meat and pet food, to lure bears to a hunting blind for a point blank kill and that, by a two to one margin, Alaska voters oppose the same-day aerial hunting of bears, or the shooting of bears from aircraft. Same-day hunting, in which aircraft are used to scout for animals, is already prohibited for wolves.
An overwhelming majority of Alaskans also oppose trapping of bears—a practice that involves steel-jawed, leg-hold traps or wire snares. The poll found voters, again by a margin of two to one, are firmly against killing black bears, wolves and coyotes, and oppose killing their cubs and pups, while in or near their dens.
“Alaska is home to some of our nation’s most iconic wildlife, and these animals deserve to be treasured and conserved for future generations, instead of subjected to cruel and unsporting trophy hunting and trapping methods,” said Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States.
The telephone poll of 1,399 statewide Alaskan voters was conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of The HSUS from Feb. 24 through Feb. 25, 2016. The margin of error is plus or minus three percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently proposed a new rule sharply restricting certain controversial wolf and other predator control measures on 77 million acres of federal wildlife refuges in Alaska – measures promoted by Alaska state wildlife managers like:
Killing wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the animals’ denning season.
Taking black bears with artificial light at den sites.
Taking brown or black bears attracted to bait.
Targeting bears with snares, traps, etc.
Using dogs in black bear hunts. State law currently prohibits using dogs to hunt big game, with an exception for black bears. The park service will no longer honor this exception on national preserves.
Shooting swimming caribou, a practice primarily used in the Noatak National Preserve in Northwest Alaska.
Federal public hearings are now underway across Alaska to gather public input prior to adopting the final rule. The draft rule, published in the Federal Register, aligns with a similar National Park Service rule that was finalized in October and would formally establish a goal of “biodiversity as the guiding principle of federal management of wildlife refuges.”
That stands in contrast to the goal of the Alaska Board of Game, which is to ensure maximum sustained populations for hunting. Increasingly over the last decade, the Game Board and the federal agencies have clashed over managing predators, largely over the idea that the state manages for “abundance” of moose and caribou. Under state law, the Board of Game focuses on sustaining populations of moose, caribou and deer for hunting and consumption.
The Wolf Conservation Center commends the USFWS for following the law, for managing the refuges as Congress intended, and for excluding extreme measures that are in direct conflict with preserving biological integrity, natural diversity and environmental health. To do anything less would violate public trust in the agency responsible for managing the national wildlife refuges — “special places that belong to all of us.”
The USFWS is accepting until March 8th. Comments can be submitted online through the Federal Register [using docket number FWS-R7-NWRS-2014-0005]
The refuge’s creation helped support nearby ranchers.
National wildlife refuges such as the one at Malheur near Burns, Oregon, have importance far beyond the current furor over who manages our public lands. Such refuges are becoming increasingly critical habitat for migratory birds because 95 percent of the wetlands along the Pacific Flyway have already been lost to development.
In some years, 25 million birds visit Malheur, and if the refuge were drained and converted to intensive cattle grazing – which is something the “occupiers” threatened to do – entire populations of ducks, sandhill cranes, and shorebirds would suffer. With their long-distance flights and distinctive songs, the migratory birds visiting Malheur’s wetlands now help to tie the continent together.
This was not always the case. By the 1930s, three decades of drainage, reclamation, and drought had decimated high-desert wetlands and the birds that depended upon them. Out of the hundreds of thousands of egrets that once nested on Malheur Lake, only 121 remained. The American population of the birds had dropped by 95 percent. It took the federal government to restore Malheur’s wetlands and recover waterbird populations, bringing back healthy populations of egrets and many other species.
Yet despite the importance of wildlife refuges to America’s birds, not everyone appreciates them. At one recent news conference, Ammon Bundy called the creation of Malheur National Wildlife refuge “an unconstitutional act” that removed ranchers from their lands and plunged the county into an economic depression. This is not a new complaint. Since the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1980s, rural communities in the West have blamed their poverty on the 640 million acres of federal public lands, which make up 52 percent of the land in Western states.
Rural Western communities are indeed suffering, but the cause is not the wildlife refuge system. Conservation of bird habitat did not lead to economic devastation, nor were refuge lands “stolen” from ranchers. If any group has prior claims to Malheur refuge, it is the Paiute Indian Tribe.
For at least 6,000 years, Malheur was the Paiutes’ home. It took a brutal Army campaign to force the people from their reservation, marching them through the snow to the state of Washington in 1879. Homesteaders and cattle barons then moved onto Paiute lands, squeezing as much livestock as possible onto dwindling pastures, and warring with each other over whose land was whose. Scars from this era persist more than a century later.
In 1908, President Roosevelt established the Malheur Lake Bird Reservation on the lands of the former Malheur Indian Reservation. But the refuge included only the lake itself, not the rivers that fed into it. Deprived of water, the lake shrank during droughts, and squatters moved onto the drying lakebed. Conservationists, realizing they needed to protect the Blitzen River that fed the lake, began a campaign to expand the refuge.
But the federal government never forced the ranchers to sell, as the occupiers at Malheur claimed, and the sale did not impoverish the community. In fact, it was just the opposite: During the Depression years of the 1930s, the federal government paid the Swift Corp. $675,000 for ruined grazing lands. Impoverished homesteaders who had squatted on refuge lands eventually received payments substantial enough to set them up as cattle ranchers nearby.
John Scharff, Malheur’s manager from 1935 to 1971, sought to transform local suspicion into acceptance by allowing local ranchers to graze cattle on the refuge. Yet some tension persisted. In the 1970s, when concern about overgrazing reduced – but did not eliminate – refuge grazing, violence erupted again. Some environmentalists denounced ranchers as parasites who destroyed wildlife habitat. A few ranchers responded with death threats against environmentalists and federal employees.
But violence is not the basin’s most important historical legacy. Through the decades, community members have come together to negotiate a better future. In the 1920s, poor homesteaders worked with conservationists to save the refuge from irrigation drainage. In the 1990s, Paiute tribal members, ranchers, environmentalists and federal agencies collaborated on innovative grazing plans to restore bird habitat while also giving ranchers more flexibility. In 2013, such efforts resulted in a landmark collaborative conservation plan for the refuge, and it offers great hope for the local economy and for wildlife.
The poet Gary Snyder wrote, “We must learn to know, love, and join our place even more than we love our own ideas. People who can agree that they share a commitment to the landscape – even if they are otherwise locked in struggle with each other – have at least one deep thing to share.”
Collaborative processes are difficult and time-consuming. Yet they have proven that they have the potential to peacefully sustain both human and wildlife communities.
Jan. 29 update: As of Thursday night, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that four occupiers remained at the refuge and that the agency is working to get them to come out peacefully.
Officials for the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday they will begin controlling access to Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, following the arrest of eight suspects and the death of one man late Tuesday.
The FBI and Harney County Sheriff set up checkpoints to control access into and out of the refuge, the FBI said in a statement Wednesday morning. The only people allowed to pass will be Harney County ranchers who own property in specific areas. Others will be asked to leave. Those who do not comply will be arrested. Those leaving the refuge must show identification and will have their vehicles searched, the FBI said.
The announcement comes following the shooting death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a core member of the group of armed occupiers at the Malheur refuge. Federal Bureau of Investigation officers moved to arrest several of the illegal occupiers at about 4:25 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, on Highway 395 north of the refuge.
The suspects arrested Tuesday include Ammon Edward Bundy, 40, the leader of the Malheur occupation. Also arrested were Ryan Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nevada; Brian Cavalier, 44, also of Bunkerville; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; Ryan Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Montana; Joseph O’Shaughnessy, 45, of Cottonwood, Arizona; and Peter Santilli, 50, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Arizona man Jon Ritzheimer, a member of the Three Percent militia, who had spent time at the refuge in support of the occupation, turned himself in to the Peoria, Arizona, police late Tuesday. Prior to coming to Oregon, Ritzheimer gained national attention for making incendiary comments about Muslims and organizing anti-Islam rallies.
One of the arrestees was treated for a gunshot wound at a local hospital and released last night. Officials have not released the name of the injured suspect, but the Oregonian reported it was Ryan Bundy. All arrestees face a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 372.
Tuesday’s arrests come amid 25 days of occupation at the Malheur refuge, following a protest in nearby Burns, Oregon, in support of ranchers Steven and Dwight Hammond, who were being sent to jail over charges of arson on public land.
Bundy and a small group of supporters, many of whom were armed militia from across the region, took over the refuge Jan. 2. They claimed they were taking a stand against federal overreach in matters of natural resource management and touting the far-fetched idea that all federal lands, including the refuge, should be turned over to local ownership.
It was unclear early Wednesday what will happen to the occupation, or the broader movement it represents.
“I would expect that the evidence against them will be presented to a grand jury in the weeks ahead, however, and that even more serious charges will be filed based on their unlawful occupation of the Malheur Refuge,” says David Uhlmann, former head of the Department of Justice’s environmental crimes section. “There is no question that the Justice Department would pursue the most serious possible charges — to include domestic terrorism — if a militant group took over federal property on behalf of ISIS or as part of an effort to overthrow the US government. The threat from this group was far less dangerous but no less illegal, and I expect that the Justice Department will insist on felony charges and jail time for anyone who does not cooperate in the case.”
Finicum was one of the most visible of the occupiers, often speaking at length at press conferences about the occupiers’ aims and beliefs.
Finicum owned a ranch in northwestern Arizona, and has also long been a foster parent. He told reporters at the refuge that foster care, not ranching, was his main source of income. Tax documents from the Catholic Charities Community Services Inc. show that in 2009, Finicum was compensated about $115,000 for foster care, and in 2005, he received $99,000. The children in his care were taken out of his home by child services after the occupation began, thus depriving him and his wife of that income. He and his wife, Dorthea Jeanette, also owned a business called Southwest Horse and Trails, but they and the business declared bankruptcy in 2002.
The public record on Finicum is thin prior to 2014. But he appears to have gone through a major transformation after the standoff at the Bundy Ranch, just over the Nevada border from Finicum’s, in April of that year. Finicum joined the Bundys during the standoff, and helped them successfully wrest their cattle from the BLM.
Shortly thereafter, Finicum developed an online persona, with a website and Facebook page titled, “One Cowboy’s Stand for Freedom,” and laid out his creed in a series of YouTube videos. As is the case with Ammon Bundy and other members of their ad hoc movement, Finicum’s ideology was less old-school Sagebrush Rebellion than it was a broader brand of extreme libertarianism. He accused the BLM of stealing water from a huge tank on his land and other transgressions, but also spoke out against Obamacare and gun control, and encouraged his followers to stockpile enough food and supplies to survive for at least a year, in case of some sort of apocalyptic event. He even sold “Defend the Constitution” t-shirts and wrote a novel, “Only By Blood And Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom.”
In his videos, Finicum appears to get deeper and deeper into his cause as time goes on, transitioning from merely proselytizing to inflaming actual revolt. In November of 2015 he rallied southern Utah ranchers to take part in a “Cowboy Uprising” by refusing to pay grazing fees, a la Cliven Bundy, and asked for militia support. His speech to them repeatedly invoked the American Lands Council and its seizure of federal land philosophy.
Referring to the Bundy standoff, Finicum wrote in 2014: “When I rode around that corner to face those federal guns, I knew I might never see my family again and I did it because I knew that the federal government was using the law to unjustly steal a man’s property…. I’m willing to die standing on this line.” He used similar rhetoric during the occupation, hinting that he’d rather go down shooting in the name of an ideological crusade than to spend his life in a “concrete box.”
Officials have not yet given any details regarding the exact events that led up to Finicum’s death. But as news got out that Finicum was dead, supporters of the Bundys and the occupation unleashed a flurry of propaganda on social media, accusing the feds of murdering him and raising the specter of retaliatory action against the government and law enforcement.
“My heart and prayers go out to LaVoy Finicum’s family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns, OR,” tweeted Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. Fiore is well-known for her extreme right wing views, her support of the Bundy family and for the Second Amendment calendars she produces and models in, posing with high-powered firearms. On its own Facebook page, the Bundy Ranch posted photos of Finicum, noting, “… our government murdered him while he was unarmed with his hands in the air… Who stands with liberty?”
But in a video posted on YouTube this morning, Ammon Bundy’s bodyguard Mark McConnell, who says he was detained and released, had a different account. “He (Finicum) was not on his knees,” McConnell says, basing his take on what he saw and heard during the altercation. “He went after (the enforcement officers). He charged them. LaVoy was very passionate about what he was doing up here.”
Still, McConnell’s account might have come too late to defuse the situation. Extremist Internet forums lit up last night with the language of revenge. “These are the first shots of a new revolution,” wrote commenter “Nextrush” on freerepublic.com. “His death will be avenged.”
DC correspondent Elizabeth Shogren contributed reporting to this story. Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor of HCN and Tay Wiles is the online editor.
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 00:00
Spencer Sunshine By Spencer Sunshine, Truthout | News Analysis
With fellow protesters on either side of him, Ammon Bundy, back to camera in center, speaks to reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Princeton, Oregon, January 4, 2016. (Photo: Jarod Opperman / The New York Times)
The FBI and the Oregon State Police have arrested most of the leaders of the three-and-a-half-week armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. At least two militia members were shot during a highway traffic stop that turned into a shoot-out Tuesday night, and one militia leader – Robert “LaVoy” Finicum – was killed.
From its start, the Malheur occupation highlighted the social and political fault lines within the United States, drawing sharply conflicting reactions ranging from mockery to hero worship to criticisms of the capitalist and colonial underpinnings of the militia’s tactics and aims. Reactions to the shoot-out have also revealed even more fault lines, including divisions within the left, as some celebrate the downfall of the far-right-wing occupiers and others question how any progressive could ever celebrate the shooting of a civilian by the police.
As the Malheur occupation fades into history, there are many insights on the US social and political landscape to be distilled both from this episode and from the national conversations it has sparked. One underreported aspect of the affair is what it revealed about the nature of the partial but significant overlaps between neo-Nazis and anti-federal-government activists like the Bundys.
The occupiers had been demanding the abolition of the federal government as we know it, using a set of rationales that were originally derived from racist movements. Some of the occupiers were known to spout anti-Semitic or Islamophobic conspiracy theories, while another denied that slavery existed. And so it should not have surprised anyone that neo-Nazis and other organized racists have applauded the occupation.
Instead of wearing a swastika and burning a cross, they were wrapped in the American flag and waving the Constitution.
Until their arrest, Ammon and Ryan Bundy (sons of deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy) were leaders of the occupation of the refuge’s headquarters outside of Burns, Oregon, which had gone on since January 2. They had two demands: to remove control of the bird sanctuary (previously Indigenous-held land) from the federal government’s hands so that ranchers could use it for private gain without current environmental and other restrictions; and release two members of the Hammond family, local ranchers serving sentences for arson on public land.
Many of the ideas and political forms that Ammon Bundy and his friends used were derived from the 1970s white supremacist group Posse Comitatus. It promoted the formation of militias, developed a fictitious parallel legal world based on an idiosyncratic reading of the US Constitution, and rejected the authority of federal and state governments – claiming that the county sheriff was the highest legitimate elected official. But while Ammon Bundy and the others directly around him had many of the same ideas, they were careful not to use Posse Comitatus’ bigoted language.
This was not true of many of the Bundys’ followers at the refuge. Jon Ritzheimer, who was also arrested Tuesday night, is a famous Islamophobic organizer, known for his vicious rhetoric. Blaine Cooper once wrapped a Koran in bacon and set it on fire. Brand Thornton and DavidFry are reported to hold anti-Semitic ideas. Ryan Payne (also arrested on Tuesday) believes that slavery didn’t exist. Rance Harris is said to have neo-Nazi tattoos like “88” – the alphanumeric code for “Heil Hitler.” And together they collectively offended the Burns Paiute Tribe (whose land used to include the refuge), by – among other things – breaking into an area where the tribe’s artifacts are stored.
So flirtatious overtures from neo-Nazis to the Bundy gang should not have surprised anyone.
As law enforcement surrounded the remaining protesters at an Oregon wildlife refuge Wednesday, an armed occupier urged supporters to join them and to kill any law enforcement officer who tried prevent their entry, according to a livestream that has been broadcasting from the site.
“There are no laws in this United States now! This is a free-for-all Armageddon!” a heavyset man holding a rifle yelled into a camera that was broadcasting a livestream from the refuge Wednesday morning, adding that if “they stop you from getting here, kill them!”
A second man cooed to the camera in a sing-song voice, “What you gonna do, what you gonna do when the militia comes after you, FBI?”
The FBI declined to release any details about how a spokesman for the protest group was killed during a confrontation with federal and state agencies a day earlier, citing a policy of not commenting on shooting incidents while they are under review.
The sudden move to arrest ranking protest leaders on a rural stretch of highway Tuesday afternoon was “a very deliberate and measured response” to the armed occupation that had lasted since Jan. 2 with no end in sight, Gregory T. Bretzing, special agent in charge of Portland’s FBI division, said at a Wednesday morning news conference.
“We’ve worked diligently to bring the situation” at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., to “a peaceful end,” Bretzing said.
He added that the FBI and Oregon State Police’s surprise arrests of protesters confronted outside the refuge Tuesday was deliberately carried far from county residents and that agents were cognizant of “removing the threat of danger from anybody who might be present.”
But he said he could not release details about how protester spokesman and Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed, citing an ongoing investigation. A pair of unverified videos from a man and a woman who claimed to be traveling with the protesters when they were arrested said that Finicum was shot after he sped away from law enforcement during a traffic stop.
Several members of the group — including one of its most prominent leaders, Ammon Bundy, 40 — were expected to make their initial appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon to face charges of government intimidation.
Jan 27 (Reuters) – U.S. and state officials in Oregon on Wednesday set up checkpoints around Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where an armed group pledged to prolong its standoff with the government a day after one protester was shot and eight others were arrested.
Authorities said the new security involves a series of checkpoints along key routes into and out of the refuge, and was made out of an “abundance of caution” to protect the public and law enforcement after the confrontation.
The month-long occupation of the wildlife reserve over federal control of large tracts of the country turned violent on Tuesday after officers stopped a car carrying protest leader Ammon Bundy and others near the refuge. Activists said Robert LaVoy Finicum, a rancher who acted as a spokesman for the occupiers, was killed.
There were no details on why shooting broke out at the traffic stop. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said authorities would hold a news conference on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. PST (1730 GMT) in Burns, a town near the refuge.
One of the remaining occupiers, Jason Patrick, told Reuters by phone they would stay until the “redress of grievances.”
“I’ve heard ‘peaceful resolution’ for weeks now and now there’s a cowboy who is my friend who is dead – so prepare for the peaceful resolution,” Patrick said.
Authorities on Wednesday said the checkpoints will allow only ranchers who own property in the area to pass and anyone coming out of the refuge will have to show identity and have their vehicle searched.
BURNS, Ore. (AP) The leader of an armed group that is occupying a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon has spoken with the FBI and there are plans to communicate again on Friday as the standoff over federal land policies nears the three-week mark.
Standing outside the municipal airport in Burns, Oregon, Ammon Bundy spoke by phone Thursday to an unnamed FBI negotiator. The federal agency has used the airport, about 30 miles from the refuge, as a staging ground during the occupation.
The conversation happened a day after Oregon’s governor sharply criticized federal authorities for not doing more to remove Bundy’s group from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the state’s high-desert.
The FBI did not specifically comment on the Thursday conversation, though it was streamed live online by someone from his group.
Bundy said he went to the airport to meet with FBI officials face to face, but they declined to meet him. Bundy said the FBI had called him 14 times in a row earlier this week, but he couldn’t pick up the phone because he was in a meeting.
“We’re not going to escalate nothing, we’re there to work,” Bundy told the FBI official, with reporters and supporters watching. “You guys as the FBI… you would be the ones to escalate. I’m here to shake your hands… myself and those with me are not a threat.”
He also told the FBI the agency doesn’t have “the people’s authority” to station at the airport. Earlier this month, officials said the FBI has jurisdiction over the armed takeover of the federal buildings in the refuge, as well as any crimes committed there.
“This occupation has caused tremendous disruption and hardship for the people of Harney County, and our response has been deliberate and measured as we seek a peaceful resolution,” the FBI said Thursday in a statement.
On Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she was angry because federal authorities have not taken action against Bundy’s group, which began occupying the refuge Jan 2. The Democratic governor said the occupation has cost Oregon taxpayers nearly half a million dollars.
“We’ll be asking federal officials to reimburse the state for these costs,” Brown said.
Bundy did not address concerns about how much the occupation is costing authorities. He did rail against federal land management policies and reiterated that his armed group would not leave the refuge until federal lands including the refuge are turned over to local control.
“We will leave there if those buildings are turned over to the proper authorities… and never used again by the federal government to control land and resources unconstitutionally in this county,” Bundy said.
Bundy said that despite some negative sentiments against his group expressed at recent community meetings, he believes his group’s work is appreciated by locals. He said the armed men have been “helping ranchers,” doing maintenance on the refuge because “it’s in a bad shape,” and taking care of fire hazards in the refuge’s fire house.
Bundy also asked the FBI to let two ranchers sent to prison for arson go back home. Bundy agreed to speak with authorities again on Friday. He said he would again come to the airport and hoped to speak with someone from the FBI face-to-face.
Earlier Bundy also said his group plans to have a ceremony Saturday for ranchers to renounce federal ownership of public land and tear up their federal grazing contracts. The armed group plans to open up the 300-square-mile refuge for cattle this spring.
In what is starting to look like a genius move, the federal government and local law enforcement have mostly kept their distance in the two weeks since an unknown number of out-of-town, rag-tag militiamen stormed the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and vowed to stay until the federal government turned over its land to local ranchers.
So far authorities have declined to confront the men or to put the squeeze on them by restricting movement to and from the refuge or even to turn off the electricity, which might help draw the men out of the compound in the freezing January days.
But the lack of confrontation by federal officials has not only prevented it from becoming the next Waco or Ruby Ridge but transformed it into a peculiar and mundane sideshow, a one-sided standoff where the militiamen’s days are marked by visits from wacky outsiders like pretend judge Bruce Doucette coming to sniff out “evidence” against the federal government and from disgruntled community members ready for the men to leave already.
By leaving the would-be revolutionaries to their own devices, authorities have given them enough rope to hang themselves.
In the last week alone, the militiamen have made headlines–not for forcing the government’s hand on federal lands or helping free the Hammonds–but for throwing boxes of dildos on the floor in protest against the mocking mail they have been receiving, for getting arrested after allegedly driving an official refuge vehicle into town to get groceries, for ransacking government files and for using government computers.
With each odd incident, the media and the public gets more insight into the individuals holed up at the wildlife preserve and their puzzling and incongruent motivations. It does not appear that all of the men at the refuge subscribe to one ideology or another. A report from the Anti-Defamation League actually chronicles that the men hold a hodgepodge of views and have some varying disagreements on how to tackle the standoff.
By taking a hands-off approach to the incident, the government has actually given the militiamen room to stew, to fight with one another and ultimately, to undermine their cause.
Take for example Jon Ritzheimer, the man who recorded himself throwing boxes of sex toys onto the floor at the compound. Before he appeared in Oregon standoff videos, Ritzheimer was not known for taking up land disputes, but for putting together threatening, anti-Muslim protests and videos. He was well known in Arizona for organizing a protest where more than 200 individuals –many with guns– showed up outside of a Phoenix mosque. In November, he once again came on the FBI’s radar for announcing he planned to travel to a Muslim hamlet in New York.
Kenneth Medenbach, the man arrested for allegedly driving a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vehicle into town, was actually out on bail for another seven-month government land occupation he was allegedly involved in last year. According to the Guardian, he was also convicted of squatting on government land in 1996 when the 62-year-old now chainsaw sculptor resided in a tent on government land and guarded his assumed property with “50 to 100 pounds of the explosive ammonium sulfate, a pellet gun, and what appeared to be a hand grenade with trip wires.”
The more outspoken, bold and hungry the militiamen are for attention, the more peculiar their standoff becomes. While federal officials have been wildly criticized for leaving the militiamen to their own devices, those still at the compound are giving feds plenty of evidence to help government officials charge them later.
In one bizarre video released last week from inside the compound, an ISIS-sympathizing, self-proclaimed video gamer from Ohio, David Fry, recorded himself using a Linux flash drive to circumvent password-protected government computers. And there are several photographs of de facto standoff leader Ammon Bundy ripping apart government fencing with his bare hands.
Over the weekend, one of the most outspoken standoff participants LaVoy Finicum– a Mormon rancher who has ceased paying grazing fees and has penned a right-wing conspiracy-ridden cowboy thriller – had several foster children removed from his family’s custody back in Arizona.
Photo: Snow by Jim Robertson
He claimed the federal government was taking aim against his family in retaliation for his involvement in the standoff in Oregon, but questions have now been raised about his motivations for fostering such a large number of children and whether such an activity is his major source of income.
Another man affiliated with the Oregon militiamen, Californian Darrow Burke, 57, crashed his vehicle outside of Hines, Oregon, in an embarrassing display for the militiamen Sunday. He was cited for driving without a license. A man who in the first few days of the standoff served as Ammon Bundy’s bodyguard – and who goes by the name of ‘Fluffy Unicorn’ – was arrested last week in Maricopa County, Arizona, for an outstanding warrant. One by one, the militiamen’s pasts are catching up with them.
Even the father and son pair they claimed to be fighting for – Dwight and Steven Hammond– have turned themselves into authorities and have begun serving five-year sentences for setting fire to federal lands. The Hammond family has said it wants nothing to do with the standoff at the refuge.
The longer this standoff drags on, the more the militiamen do that further undermines that cause and the more the federal government begins to look like they may have made the right move when the opted to deescalate the situation. Isolated from the rest of the country, the militiamen enter the third week of this standoff, free to cross legal lines and incriminate themselves on video tape.