It’s been nearly two weeks since armed squatters took over a federal wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon. And, despite calls from the community that leader Ammon Bundy pack up his brigade and leave town, the groups remains holed up at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
A new report from the Anti-Defamation League gives us additional insight into the self-proclaimed Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, who they are and what they want.
It is still unknown how many individuals are at the preserve, but ADL has identified 30 of them. Here is what we know:
One of the major observations made by the ADL report is that the showdown with the federal government in 2014 led by Cliven Bundy at his ranch in Nevada created a community of disenfranchised, anti-government types. Since then, they have been looking for another opportunity to make a stand. The 2014 standoff arose when Bureau of Land Management officials attempted to remove Bundy’s cattle from federal lands because he had refused to pay federal grazing fees. But, ultimately, the federal authorities backed down, crystalizing a network of anti-government types who have apparently stayed in touch and have felt emboldened.
Three of Cliven’s sons, Ammon, Mel and Ryan, are involved in the current Oregon standoff.
According to ADL, more than half of the people identified at the Oregon militia (17 out of 30) were present at the Cliven Bundy ranch standoff. Reports from the Oregonian, note that the wildlife refuge in Oregon and the cause of Dwight and Steven Hammond –the father and son Bundy’s group claims they are fighting for who were convicted of arson on federal lands– were carefully selected as the cause de jour that would bring the brigade back together.
The ADL has identified most of the individuals at the Oregon refuge as subscribing to two popular anti-government ideologies. The organization estimates that about two-thirds of them are most closely affiliated with the Patriot movement, “a collective term for a group of anti‐government extremist movements and groups who share a belief that some sort of conspiracy has infiltrated all or part of the government and turned it into an illegitimate, tyrannical government.” And the majority of those individuals are also involved in the militia movement, which believes that the federal government is trying to “slowly strip Americans of their rights—starting with their right to bear arms—in order to disarm Americans and absorb them into the tyrannical New World Order.”
ADL estimates that the remaining third are more closely relate to the Sagebrush Rebellion movement or the Wise Use movement, which essentially believe that the federal government should not have such power over vast swaths of land out West and that the land should go to the ranchers (even though much of it has always been in the federal government’s possession.)
In recent years, it is not unusual to see an amalgamation of right wing extremist ideology mixing together and ADL reports that roughly a quarter of the individuals at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge have been associated with “some sort of racism, anti‐Semitism, or anti‐Muslim bigotry.” Jon Ritzheimer has been identified as being part of the standoff and is well known for his threats against Muslims. In November, the FBI had to send out a warning to the Muslim community in Hancock, New York, after Ritzheimer posted a threatening video that he was going to travel to the community. He also organized a “draw Muhammad” contest in his home state of Arizona.
Others engaged in the standoff have closer ties to anti-immigrant groups who patrol land along the Southern border for immigrants crossing the border illegally.
Since seizing the wildlife refuge, Ammon Bundy and his allies have faced strong criticism from locals. While many ranchers have confided that they too are frustrated with the federal government’s management of lands in the county, most have decried Bundy’s aggression. As it turns out, ADL only found five individuals out of the 30 who were from Oregon (although they note that their list is not comprehensive considering no one knows the total number of occupiers).
Many of those at the refuge are from other Western states including Montana, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. The report notes that there are also occupiers from Ohio and Georgia.
In its research, ADL found very few ties between the refuge occupants and previous involvement in the extremist movement leadership. ADL concludes that this actually offers a lot of insight into why the effort at Malheur feels so sporadic and rag tag and why the men may have stormed the refuge in the first place, a move that was initially decried by a lot of militia movement leaders.
“Few have any leadership experience with extremist groups or causes,” ADL writes in its report. “This fact may account for the general indecisiveness and uncertainty that seems to have characterized the occupiers in the days since the initial seizure of the refuge headquarters.”