The Oregon militants are proving as stubborn as they are self-righteous, and their armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge shows no signs of resolving soon.
Not even near-unanimous opposition to their occupation by the very community the militiamen claim to be liberating from federal “tyranny” is making these men second-guess their hard stand. Nor are the occupiers heeding the plea of the Burns Piaute Tribe — who claim the refuge as part of their ancestral land — to “get the hell out of here.”
Who are the men behind the militia calling itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom?
Meet the key occupiers:
Who: Leader of the takeover.
Where he’s from: The Bundy family ranch is in Bunkerville, Nevada — home to father Cliven Bundy, the infamous anti-government deadbeat who owes the feds nearly $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines. Ammon Bundy has strong ties to Arizona, but he recently moved to Emmett, Idaho, not far from Boise.
Backstory: Bundy owns a garage near Phoenix that repairs and maintains corporate truck fleets. Though he’s staging an occupation to protest the tyranny of the federal government, Bundy solicited a $530,000 federal loan guarantee for his business, a taxpayer subsidy the feds valued at $22,419.
Distinctive markings: Wears fleece-lined blue flannel jacket, brown cowboy hat.
Style: Soft spoken, with the earnest intensity of a man who believes he’s on a mission from God. On January 1, he posed a video for his followers: “I ask you now to come to Harney county to participate in this wonderful thing that the Lord is about to accomplish.”
Who: The other Bundy on-scene; Ammon’s brother, and Cliven’s oldest son.
Where he’s from: Ryan Bundy lives in Cedar City Utah, north of Zion National Park, where he reportedly owns a construction company.
Backstory: Ryan Bundy has had many minor run-ins with authorities. In September, he was in court for a misdemeanor charge of failing to register a dump truck on his land. Every bit a Bundy, he declared, “This is a violation of private property rights,” adding, “I’m not their serf, and I’m not their slave.” Ryan Bundy was also arrested last year after a scuffle with sheriff’s deputies, following an incident in which he liberated his horse after it had wandered near an airport and got picked up by animal control.
Distinctive markings: Has muscle atrophy on half of his face from a car accident in childhood: “My head was run over by a Ford LTD,” he explains in this video.
Style: Angrier in affect than his brother, Ryan may have less conviction in the cause. He floated an exit strategy earlier this week suggesting the militants could go home — if the community asked them to. Ryan quickly walked that back the next day, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting: “If there was one thing I said that you should have forgotten, it’s that.”
Who: Anti-Muslim militant.
Where he’s from: Ritzheimer is an Iraq War vet who makes his home near Phoenix.
Backstory: Ritzheimer gained national attention as the leader of the armed protest of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix last May; he wore a T-Shirt reading “Fuck Islam” — sold by an apparel line called Rogue Infidel, which Ritzheimer lists as his workplace on Facebook. Ritzheimer has been on the radar of federal and state law enforcement for months. After he made a threatening video featuring himself on a road trip to the East Coast cocking a gun and spouting anti-Islamic rhetoric, the FBI reportedly alerted New York authorities. New Jersey’s Homeland Security department flagged Ritzheimer in a December 2015 alert: “MILITIA EXTREMISTS: THREATENING THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY.” Ritzheimer has proven too extreme even for the Oath Keepers; the militant group denounced Ritzheimer after he threatened to arrest Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) for “treason” over her vote for the Iran deal. Ritzheimer now identifies with the militant movement the Three Percenters. (Here’s a primer.)
Distinctive markings: Shaved head, baseball goatee and a chest tattoo featuring the American flag with the words “Hard Knock Life.” Ritzheimer writes that he departed the military over a dispute about his tattoos.
Style: “He often comes across as literally unhinged,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ritzheimer burst to attention in the early hours of the Oregon standoff after posting a tearful goodbye video to his family in which he declared, “I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to fight against tyranny in this country. Does that mean I want war? Does that make me some kind of war monger? NO!”
Who: Ritzheimer’s sidekick. Cooper brought national mockery on the militants with a Facebook post asking sympathizers to send snacks.
Where he’s from: Cooper reportedly lives in Humboldt, Arizona. His LinkedIn profile identifies him as the owner of a media company called Third Watch Productions.
Backstory: Like his buddy Ritzheimer, Cooper is a virulent anti-Islamic extremist. He posted this video of himself tearing pages out of the Koran, wadding them up with strips of bacon and tossing them in a fire. In 2013 , Cooper claimed he was questioned by the FBI after making a Facebook post musing about an armed revolution in which “lots of people are going to die.”
Distinctive markings: While many of the militants prefer ranchwear, Cooper prefers full camo fatigues.
Style: A footsoldier soldier for the cause. Cooper previously participated in the standoff at the Bundy Ranch. “I went there to defend Cliven with my life,” he told The Oregonian.
Who: Finicum gained fame as #TarpMan on Tuesday by stationing himself outside at night under a blue tarpaulin with a rifle, waiting, he said, for federal agents.
Where he’s from: Finicum hails from Fredionia, Arizona, near the Utah border.
Backstory: For an aging rancher, Finicum is PR savvy. His slick website, OneCowboyStandForFreedom.com includes this bio: “LaVoy Finicum is a Northern Arizona Rancher who loves nothing more in life than God, family, and freedom.” The father of 11 is a constitutional originalist. “We are living in a day when that supreme law of the land has been shredded by the very government that took an oath to uphold it,” he writes. “By their actions the Federal Government has become lawless and stalks the liberties of this land under the guise of social justice.” Finicum is also the author of a work of apocalyptic fiction — Only By Blood and Suffering: Regaining Lost Freedom — described as a “fast-paced novel about what matters most in the face of devastating end-times chaos.” It is blurbed by Cliven Bundy: “A book you do not want to read, but must…”
Distinctive markings: The oldest of the top militants. Wears earmuffs, camo jacket.
Style: Some men are cowboy poets; Finicum is a cowboy legal scholar. In the militants’ press conferences Finicum frequently lingers at the microphones, waxing at length about the constitutional abuses of the federal government. Finnicum seems disturbingly at ease with dying out at the refuge. “There are things more important than your life and freedom is one of them,” he said, adding he would fight arrest: “I have no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box.”
Where he’s from: Utah, he’s said.
Backstory: The name Captain Moroni is lifted from Mormon scripture. In fact, several militants have said their standoff with the feds draws inspiration from this story. In the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni is an ancient warrior who armed his people, leading a stand against the tyranny of a wicked ruler who sought to “destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted.” In a written statement the LDS church has denounced the occupiers: “Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles. This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis.”
Style: He told Oregon Public Broadcasting, “I didn’t come here to shoot, I came here to die.”