As we wrote several weeks ago when a group of armed militia members took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, many antigovernment leaders were not on their side. This isn’t because these groups disagree with the occupiers’ cause — outrage at the arrests of two ranchers for arson on federal lands — but because they don’t have faith in the leadership of those who took over the building.
Now that eight of the occupiers — including their leader, Ammon Bundy —have been arrested and one has been killed in a clash with law enforcement, antigovernment groups are caught between a cause they agree with and a leader they don’t trust. These groups are obsessed with the idea of the federal government provoking a “civil war” with “patriots” like them, and they have been worried that they will now be forced to fight a civil war on behalf of Ammon Bundy.
Stewart Rhodes, head of the Oath Keepers, has from the beginning urged his followers to stay out of the Oregon standoff, but has nevertheless warned the government that “there will never again be a free Waco” and that any force against the occupiers could lead to a “bloody, brutal civil war.” Mike Vanderboegh, leader of the Three Percenters movement, similarly warned that Bundy and his allies had “written a check that they expect the rest of us to cash in our own blood in a ghastly civil war” and may have been infiltrated by federal “provacateurs” trying to provoke such a war.
These groups are, at least for now, sounding a note of caution.
The Pacific Patriots Network, an umbrella group of militia groups in the area, including members of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, wrote in a press release last night that it was urging its members to “stand by” and that “[n]o mobilization of any kind is to take place until every piece of speculation and hearsay have been verified or dismissed.” It repeated that call today, writing that the group is “working on maintaining a calm presence in town and are still acting as a buffer between the Refuge and the FBI.”
A post on Vanderboegh’s blog yesterday that although the group “disagreed with Ammon Bundy’s choice of targets, tactics, timing and ‘friends’ like the sociopath (and probable Fed provocateur) Ryan Payne” (Payne was one of those arrested yesterday with Bundy), the “Feds picked this fight.”
The post concludes ominiously: “We need more information and confirmation of what I have written, but it is apparent that the Feds are giving us all a choice.”
As the Anti-Defamation League’s Mark Pitcavage noted on Twitter, at this point the danger of backlash comes not from these larger groups but from rogue individuals who have been motivated by their ideology:
Anti-govt *groups* relatively unlikely to take action re #oregonstandoff. Real danger of violence is from volatile individuals & offshoots.
— Mark Pitcavage (@egavactip) January 27, 2016
Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Harney County Sheriff David Ward, who has been a target of groups that believe he should have turned against the government and sided with Bundy, looked visibly shaken, saying that “it didn’t have to happen” and “there doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community.”