For more than a week, the standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge has appeared to be a strange and unpredictable armed dispute between the Bundy family, their allies and the federal government. But, in recent days, the refuge has also become somewhat of a stage for anyone with extremist views who is hungry to catch a headline.
The refuge has been visited by Bruce Doucette, 54, a self-proclaimed judge collecting “evidence” against the federal government for a citizen grand jury, Idaho lawmakers on a ‘fact-finding mission,’ uninvited militiamen from the Patriot movement who wanted to form a perimeter at the compound and individuals from Veterans on Patrol whose stated mission was to remove an occupier they deemed dangerous.
But just how much can we infer from the visitors about the beliefs of those inside the compound and the future of the Bundy rebellion?
That is up for debate.
Two experts on right-wing extremism — Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League — are watching the events unfold with two very different perspectives on what the visitors say about the evolution of the Oregon standoff.
Lenz says that Doucette’s entrance into the standoff specifically was troubling to him and marked a shift in how he perceived the Bundy brigade’s ideology. Doucette is reportedly active in the sovereign citizen movement, which believes the current U.S. government hijacked the true constitutional order decades ago and is no longer legitimate. Doucette has set himself up as a judge of the “U.S. Superior Court” (no such court actually exists), and a so-called “citizens grand jury” has been empaneled at the refuge to consider charges against various officials.
“The Bundy’s have not really pushed this tactic yet,” Lenz said. “I am not sure what this is about or what they are hoping to achieve with it.”
Lenz says that Doucette’s arrival and his insistence that he could help hold government officials accountable through a pretend legal process revealed that the Bundy brothers may be more sympathetic to the sovereign citizen movement than first thought.
“It is an alarming trend,” Lenz said. “It shows the Bundys are willing to dive into the rabbit hole of fear mongering and conspiracy theories and anti-government ideology in way they have not yet.”
But Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League said that Doucette’s presence – just like visits to the Malheur compound by others touting various causes – should hardly be interpreted as the sovereign citizen movement gaining momentum within the compound itself. Instead, Pitcavage said he has only identified one individual at the refuge as being with the sovereign citizen movement. Pitcavage said that even Doucette is considered a bit more extreme and fringe than others in the sovereign citizen movement. Furthermore, Pitcavage said there is no proof that Bundy even embraced Doucette’s ideology.
“From PETA trying to send the occupiers vegan snacks to politicians showing up on a find a ‘fact finding’ mission, whenever you have a high-profile thing like this, groups and individuals run to the scene to take advantage of it for their own ideological or personal interests.”
The sovereign citizen movement – complete with its peculiar, self-styled legal system – has been linked to some of the most violent clashes between anti-government extremists and officials over the last few decades.
In May 2010, Jerry Kane and his son Joseph – two sovereign citizen sympathizers–gunned down West Memphis cops during a routine traffic stop in Arkansas. In April 2010, one-time Navy officer Walter Fitzpatrick attempted to make a citizen’s arrest against grand jury foreman Gary Pettway in Monroe County, Tennessee, because Pettway refused to call a grand jury to investigate questions about President Obama’s eligibility to be President.
There are countless examples of sovereign citizen sympathizers taking the law into their own hands. There are several cases of sovereign citizen affiliates being arrested for having stockpiles of weapons. One man, Ronald Struve, pleaded guilty in Seattle in 2009 for “having an arsenal of illegal weapons and explosives, including dozens of machine guns,plastic explosives, two grenade launchers, dozens of grenades, and more.”