[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]
Protest events organized by antigovernment movement "Patriots" have a long history of being internally contentious affairs, and this week’s standoff with federal authorities in Burns, Ore., is no exception.
The internal dissent over the invasion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Ammon and Ryan Bundy and a group of out-of-state militiamen has, in fact, been very public. Indeed, the majority of “Patriot” and “constitutionalist” organizers have adamantly denounced the takeover and pleaded with the Bundy brothers to back off.
For their part, the Bundys and their militia cohort have been defiant, insisting that the cause of the Hammond family – the ranchers whose arson convictions provided the centerpiece of the original protest last Saturday that led to the takeover – is worth “taking a stand” over.
But other “Patriots” who participated in the Saturday protest disavowed the takeover, notably the leadership of the contingent of militiamen from the “III Percent of Idaho” organization who had traveled from Boise to participate.
“The 3% of Idaho, 3% of Oregon, The Oregon Constitutional Guard, and PPN organizations in no way condone nor support these actions,” announced a press release. “They do not mirror our vision, mission statement, or views in regards to upholding the Constitution, The Rule of Law, or Due Process.”
Similarly, “constitutionalist” Sheriff Richard Mack – who was present at the Saturday rally as well – issued a statement denouncing the action: “CSPOA does not support or condone the occupation by those individuals who have taken over the Federal Wildlife building just outside Burns, OR. With all our hearts we appeal to all those occupying the federal facility to immediately vacate the building and to go home to their families!”
Likewise, Stewart Rhodes, president of the Oath Keepers, the antigovernment group that was a major participant in the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, backed away from any involvement in the takeover.
“By doing this, they have given Obama the best New Years present he could hope for – an example of militia movement/patriot aggression, which gives up the high ground while also having the least credibility and support from the locals possible, after lying to them, and also the least support from the patriot community, who were also blind-sided by Ammon and Ryan Payne,” read a statement issued by Rhodes.
Conspiracist radio host Alex Jones took that speculation to the next level, claiming on his daily show that the Oregon standoff was actually the work of agents provocateur who had supposedly swindled the Bundys into taking this course of action.
“Guaranteed provocateurs are showing up and other things are happening, the whole Soros group is saying, ‘Here are our white terrorists, here are our cowboy-hat wearing terrorists,’ it gives them the backdrop they need, they want to start a civil war,” he told his national audience.
He went on: “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t let Obama be successful when it comes to starting civil unrest and riots in this country. They will use that as a civil emergency to bring in a type of soft martial law.”
Mike Vanderboegh, the national cofounder of the “III Percent” movement, was equally conspiratorial and vociferous at his blog: “My initial reaction was to observe that at least afterward we’ll know who the federal snitches are because they will be the only ones who survive the raid to take back the building,” he wrote.
“There is nothing on the talking heads channels as yet, but by Monday, when Obama meets with his Attorney General on the subject of citizen disarmament, you can bet the farm that this will play right into that narrative. Perfect timing. You’ve got to give the federal handlers of these pukes credit. This is precisely the sort of offensive action on the part of the ‘militia terrorists’ that they needed.”
Ammon Bundy and the militiamen accompanying him have been defiant. One of the militia leaders, Jon Ritzheimer of Phoenix – who has been previously involved in organizing armed anti-Muslim events at mosques around the nation – filmed a much-mocked video of himself bidding farewell to his family, which included some shots at Rhodes and the Oath Keepers.
“I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to fight against tyranny in this country,” a teary-eyed Ritzheimer declared. Then he launched into a rant against what he called a “smear” campaign against the Hammonds, saying it wasn’t true that they wanted to turn themselves in, because they were being coerced.
He named the perpetrator: “Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers, saying, ‘Well, they want to turn themselves in, so it’s, they have their right to turn themselves in.’ By your logic, I guess we shouldn’t offer any help to these veterans who want to commit suicide. Just let them suck-start their 9-mil, because it’s their right.”
Ammon Bundy also issued a videotaped response to Rhodes and other critics, claiming that he had been called by God to stand up on behalf of the Hammonds:
“I have respect for Stewart Rhodes,” Bundy said. “But he does not understand what is truly transpiring, or he has chosen to be in opposition.”
Bundy went on to explain that he had come to envision the plan to take over the wildlife refuge because God led him there. “And so I am asking you to come to Harney County – to make the decision right now, of whether this is a righteous cause or not, whether I am some crazy person – or whether the Lord truly works through individuals to get his purposes accomplished.
“I know that we are to stand now, and that we are to do these things now, or we will not have anything to pass on to our children.”
This kind of internecine bickering is a common feature of far-right organizing, especially in the antigovernment realm. For instance, while far-right mythology now enshrines the Bundy Ranch standoff as an epic moment of victory for their cause in which disparate groups came together, the reality is that the Bundy scene quickly dissolved into nasty factional quarrels, replete with drawn weapons and death threats.
So far, things haven’t devolved that far in Burns. However, no one has spread rumors (as they did at Bundy Ranch) of an imminent drone attack over their encampment, either – though Rhodes’ Oath Keepers website did post a warning that “military special op assets have been assigned for the standoff,” along with the advice to “keep women and children out of there.”