Thirteen days after a small group of armed militants took over federal buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Oregon, one of them finally got arrested. After a number of law enforcement agencies monitored their illegal activities, Oregon State Police on Friday arrested 62-year-old Kenneth Medenback of Crescent (OR) for driving a stolen federal vehicle into Burns to the grocery store. Medenback is facing federal charges in Medford and had been released on the condition that he would not “occupy” any federal land. The man has a long history of convictions.
Opinion about their insurgency was mixed, but the residents have become increasingly concerned by the insurgents’ intimidation, threatening and following people who live in Burns. Refuge employees have been forced to leave the area, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “is taking necessary steps to ensure employee and family safety.” Harney County Sheriff David Ward said that his deputies and own family members had been followed home, photographed, and had personal property damaged in recent months.
Members of the Pacific Patriots Network from Oregon, Washington and Idaho, carrying rifles and sidearms and clad in military attire and bulletproof vests, tried to join Bundy’s group at Malheur. Told to leave, they moved on to Burns where they harass the residents. The occupation has developed the feeling of a siege.
The insurgents’ illegal actions began with taking over a federal building and the surrounding lands. If a person “knowingly converts to his use” property of the federal government, that person could face a fine and a prison sentence of up to 10 years if the value of the property is greater than $1,000. Willful property destruction at protected sanctuaries could yield a six-month prison sentence. A separate statute says that if someone “willfully and maliciously” destroys property on certain federal lands, then he or she could face a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.
The militants promised that they wouldn’t damage any property while they squatted on the land in their attempt to get public land given to private individuals, but thus far they have
- Used the site’s kitchens, beds, offices, museum, and other buildings.
- Driven federal vehicles around the compound and into Burns.
- Used federal IDs found on the premises.
- Accessed government computers to find personal information about employees such as addresses and Social Security numbers.
- Used a federal excavator to remove government fencing between private and public lands.
- Built new roads with no attention to cultural artifacts, habitat, and wildlife.
- Removed surveillance cameras near Burns.
Ammon Bundy claimed that rancher Tim Puckett asked him to take down the fence, but Puckett denied Bundy’s allegation and said that the occupiers are not allowed on his land. A federal statute prohibits the possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, with only limited exceptions for law enforcement. Violation could lead to a fine and a one-year prison sentence, and the use of the weapon in the commission of a crime can extend the sentence to five years.
$23,400: Almost 120 refuge BLM and refuge employees now on paid administrative leave with another 50 employees also on paid leave.
$40,000: Lost tourism from a variety of outdoor recreationalists, about 119,000 annual visitors to the refuge who spend about $15 million a year.
$70,000: Security costs and school closures.
Self-described ISIS supporter and new “recruit” David Fry is using government computers to build a website for the occupiers. A big fan of Adolf Hitler, Fry said that “there has to be some point where people have to put their foot down against [government] problems” and he thinks that the insurgents are “pretty good people.” The website liberally uses videos that Fry made of himself playing video games almost a year ago.
The occupiers have decided that they will develop an alternative legal system in the area with their own judge, sheriff, and other elected officials. Partnering with self-proclaimed “Superior Court Judge” Bruce Doucette, they would declare themselves “sovereign citizens” with no mandate to follow any city, county, state, or federal laws. Doucette is a conspiracy theorist who thinks that the 9/11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing are government hoaxes and that the earth is flat. The occupiers could then use a “grand jury”—and their guns—to arrest people. Self-proclaimed “sovereign citizens” have a history of extremist violence.
Tensions have been building at the refuge.
Joe “Capt. O” Oshaugnessy left after a drunken argument with participants over bringing their wives and children to the standoff.
Brian “Booda” Cavalier left the compound because news reports revealed he had lied about serving in the military. (Since then, Cavalier has been arrested in Maricopa County, OR on an outstanding warrant.)
Blaine Cooper, sucker-punched one of his former friends, sending the man to the hospital with a concussion and serious facial injuries.
Lewis Arthur, the recipient of the injuries, said he came to remove a “radicalized” and “suicidal” veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has a tendency toward violence when he’s placed under stress. He said that Cooper attacked one of Arthur’s three-man team over an argument about removing women, children, and Ryan Payne, a U.S. Army veteran who had bragged about his sniper teams to target federal agents during the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff. Cooper said that Arthur started the fight.
John Hildinger, arrested on a Maryland firearms charge on his way to the anti-Obama “Operation American Spring” rally in 2013, described Cooper, Payne, and Cavalier as loose cannons.
Jon Ritzheimer had a temper tantrum on video after people sent “a bag of dicks”—Ritzheimer’s description—following the insurgents’ begging for a long list of items including tampons, cigarettes, and snacks.
Many members of the so-called “militia” take advantage of government financial support such as the $530,000 Small Business Administration loan that Ammon Bundy received in 2010. Ritzheimer has only his government disability check and “a wife that works.” Mark Pitcavage, researcher of far-right movements for 22 years and studier of the Harney County occupiers said, “Right-wing extremists, generally speaking, have very little money.” Daryl Johnson, a former DHS domestic terrorism analyst, said that the militants “think nothing” about spending half their money “to buy ammunition and guns.”
Occupier LaVoy Finicum said earlier this week that the group would outline their exit strategy today, but nothing has been said about it since then. They’ve also said that they would leave if the community didn’t want them. It doesn’t, but they’re still there. Residents have repeatedly told the insurgents to leave, including the call for one of the insurgents to stop talking at a community meeting this past week. The audience applauded as law enforcement ushered Pete Santilli, earlier arrested in Ohio for illegally carrying a concealed weapon, out of the building. In 2013, Santilli was investigated after he threatened to shoot Hillary Clinton “in the vagina” and described 15-year-old Ashley Presley, granddaughter of a county judge, as a political “prostitute” after she said she was afraid of the insurgents.
One protester holding a sign said, “I never thought I’d have to say this, but I’m here to oppose the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge.”
So a bunch of white people, mostly men, have forced a public school of 800 to close down for a week, followed and harassed citizens of a town, illegally accessed government computers to gain personal information about federal employees, destroyed public property, blocked public land from use by U.S. residents, illegally occupied a federal facility and used its utilities, stolen federal vehicles, and broken other laws. They cost taxpayers millions of dollars as well as create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in a formerly sleepy Oregon town. These are members of the Tea Party that want to save money and throw immigrants out of the country because they “break the law.”
The insurgents’ actions are clearly domestic terrorism, but their white skin protects them from death—and possibly future imprisonment. Conservative candidates campaign by raging against ISIL while domestic terrorists—mostly white Christian men—take over the United States.