It’s been two days since roughly a dozen armed men took over an unoccupied headquarters building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon’s vast eastern desert near the small town of Burns.
It started as a planned protest in Burns over the impending imprisonment of local father-and-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond who were convicted of starting fires on public lands. But it quickly escalated into a full-on takeover of the federal facility 30 miles away with the armed group hunkering down and refusing to leave.
The Hammonds quickly distanced themselves from the brigade that includes two sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, a folk hero of sorts among western anti-government types after his standoff with the federal government in 2014.
Who exactly are these men? The exact number and identities of all the militia members at Malheur is not known, but here’s a rundown on what is known about the men identified so far who are holed up at the wildlife refuge.
Ammon Bundy, 40, is the son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who went toe to toe with the Bureau of Land Management in April 2014 as part of his 20-year dispute with the federal government over grazing rights. According to NBC News, he lives in Phoenix and runs Valet Fleet Service. Ammon Bundy is believed to be leading the standoff in Oregon to fight against what he perceives as a governmental “form of tyranny” despite calls from the Hammond family and other militia groups that he back off.
In a video posted to his Facebook page, Ammon Bundy told those who disagree with him that “this is not a time to stand down, this is a time to stand up.”
He also repeatedly called for action in the weeks leading up to the standoff in Oregon and told the Oregonian that he is “planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we’ve made at the last minute.”
According to the Daily Beast, Ammon Bundy is a registered Republican who has only a few traffic violations on his record.
“Their lands and their resources and their livelihoods have been basically at the will of a federal agent,” Ammon Bundy said in a video he posted Sunday. “There are a lot of people who don’t believe that what we did was right, but I know that what we did was right and I know the lord was involved and I know that we are going to see great things come from this, but we do still need you.”
“I just feel that what happened to us is happening to them,” Ammon Bundy said. “One Monday night, I laid on my bed … and a message came on my phone and it was a message, an article, another article about the Hammonds. Immediately this urge, this overwhelming urge came upon me to find out about the Hammonds and I could not sleep so I studied all through the night.”
— Amanda Peacher (@amandapeacher) January 3, 2016
— Amanda Peacher (@amandapeacher) January 3, 2016
Ammon Bundy admitted in the video that the Hammonds may not be that open to have his help.
“I told [Steven Hammond] that I was here to help them in some way and at that point he began to somewhat decline the thought of needing help. He felt that there was no hope, there was not justice in the system and the only thing to do was just to bow your head and take what you are given and get through this life,” Ammon Bundy said. “They backed away because they were afraid.”
Ammon Bundy appeared at a December town hall meeting in Oregon to rally supporters to stand up against the feds, but he has had a hard time recruiting the volume of supporters he had hoped for.
An Arizona rancher who hosts a Facebook page titled “One Cowboy’s Stand for Freedom,” LaVoy Finicum was involved in and inspired by the standoff at the Bundy ranch in 2014, according to the St. George News.
After that event, Finicum decided he was being “inconsistent” and he would no longer pay grazing fees to the BLM. On his YouTube channel, Finicum warned in November that “America, you got a revolution on its hands.”
Finicum is also the author of a published thriller — titled “Only By Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom” — about “a family’s struggle to come together and survive in the midst of national crisis.”
On his YouTube channel, he also discusses other disputes with the BLM over what he characterizes as “stolen waters.”
Another son of Cliven Bundy, Ryan Bundy, 43, is also involved in the standoff in Oregon. Ryan Bundy lives in Cedar City, Utah and has his own colorful past, having been arrested in January 2015 in Iron County, Utah for resisting arrest. He was initially stopped by an officer who had a warrant to arrest him for interfering with animal welfare agents, but Ryan Bundy “verbally and physically resisted the deputies’ attempts to take him into custody,” according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune.
“In the charge of interfering with an animal control officer, investigators wrote that a Cedar City officer found a horse, later claimed as Bundy’s, running unattended near the airport. The officer took the horse to the animal shelter, where it was kept outside.
The next day, the same officer stopped by the shelter to check on the horse but found it was no longer there. The officer later found the horse corralled on property belonging to Ryan Bundy, who allegedly said he took the horse from the shelter because the horse belonged to him.”
The Salt Lake Tribune also reported Ryan Bundy joined in on an illegal ATV ride across Utah’s Recapture Canyon in 2014 following the standoff at his father’s ranch, but he was not charged with any crime.
According to NBC News he has a construction business.
The man who staged anti-Muslim rallies like the 2015 “Draw Muhammad” cartoon competition is also involved in the takeover of the Oregon wildlife refuge.
Ritzheimer called a recorded address to supporters one of the “tougher videos he has had to make,” explaining why he believed the Oregon standoff was worth forfeiting spending the holidays with his family.
“I do not want to be up here having to deal with this, but if you do not spearhead with this and take a stand, it is going to set a new precedent across the U.S,” Ritzheimer said. “When we united and you take that stand, there is no stopping us.”
Ritzheimer has engaged in a plethora of anti-government and anti-Islamic activities over the past few years. He threatened to make citizens arrests against lawmakers who supported the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, most notably Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). And, in November, the FBI issued a warning that Ritzheimer was planning to potentially travel to Hancock, New York, a community with a substantial Muslim population.
In a video preempting his trip, the New York Daily News reported Ritzheimer said “F–k you Muslims. We’re gonna stop at virtually every mosque along the way, flip them off and tell them to get f—–.”
The video also included Ritzheimer displaying his handgun.