By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric
Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne showed up in Harney County, Oregon, last year touting the Constitution to anyone that would listen as they went about scouting locations and surveilling law enforcement; just as the two had done in Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014. By December 2015 however, the two had set-up the Harney County Committee of Safety with the counsel and help of Michael Emry and others who espouse sovereign citizen ideologies.
Emry, a self-styled reporter, and owner of The Voice of Idaho (TVOI), was allegedly at the January Oregon Standoff as a journalist. He is now facing heavy federal charges related to a Browning M2 .50 cal. machine gun and more.
Emry traveled from Idaho to Oregon in late December 2015 in a van loaned to him by Ammon Bundy. After convoying* from Idaho to Oregon with the Idaho Three Percent militia, Emry stayed in a house in Burns, Oregon with A. Bundy, Payne, and other militants. Emery spent copious amounts of time in Burns as well as at the refuge during the Standoff.
On January 2, A. Bundy, Payne, and others took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) announcing their intention to occupy the land indefinitely, although the occupation lasted only 41-days. In a recent motion filed by A. Bundy’s attorney, A. Bundy claims brother Ryan Bundy was the first to arrive at Malheur for the takeover. R. Bundy told media the fact they were armed, showed they were serious.
By all accounts, however, including his own, Payne is the one responsible for spearheading the surprise takeover of the refuge. Payne is an Army veteran from Montana who was a leader with Operation Mutual Defense (OMD), formerly known as Operation Mutual Aid (OMA) before that organization split into two. The split came as a result of Payne’s desire to go on the offensive whether his militia was called upon for help or not. Payne, believed he had the lawful authority to kill law enforcement.
Neither A. Bundy nor Payne told the locals who they had been courting, that they intended to make an armed stand holding the federal facility for ransom, allegedly in exchange for the freedom of Harney County ranchers Dwight and Stephen Hammond, and the release of the federally controlled land itself.
Many militia leaders from across the country, like Melvin Lee, Mark McConnell, Lewis Arthur and Scott Woods, voiced grave concerns over Payne’s involvement, and his intentions, in the takeover. His reputation had proceeded his actions in Oregon and failed attempts were made by many to get him to leave.
Payne was widely known as a hot-head who sought situations in which to go on an offensive, versus taking a defensive posture, in order to kick-start a revolution. It is Payne that set up the sniper teams to target federal agents during the 2014 Nevada armed standoff near Bundy Ranch. Mike Vanderboegh, founder of the militia group the Three Percenters called Payne a “sociopath” repeatedly in a blog post after the 2014 standoff.
Although there were guns galore at Malheur, the extent of weaponry the militants ultimately had is still a bit of a mystery nearly six months after the occupation has ended. Some documents, testimony, sources and news reports have fueled speculations about explosives, including grenades and IEDs.
According to the arresting document from the January 26 arrests of occupation leaders, including A. Bundy, R. Bundy and Payne,
“The BLM was notified later that day by a Harney County Sheriffs Officer that a source informed him that the group controlled the MNWR and had explosives, night vision goggles, and weapons and that if they didn’t get the fight they wanted out there they would bring the fight to town. ”
All 26 co-defendants in Oregon have been charged with one count of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 372. Some have additional charges for other acts at Malheur, while others face steeper charges in Nevada for their participation in the related Bundy Ranch standoff. However, none of the 19 defendants in the Nevada case; nor any of the 26 in the Oregon case are currently facing any charges related to explosives.
Emry, a known bomb maker, could still have a charge added pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d) for illegally possessing a destructive device – specifically, a blasting cap which is a detonator for a bomb discovered at the time of his May 6 arrest at a John Day trailer park.
More than a month after Emry’s arrest, another militia member and associate of LaVoy Finicum, the rancher who was killed during the January 26, arrests of the Malheur occupation leadership, was also arrested. William Keebler, the commander of a citizen militia group in Stockton, Utah allegedly tried to detonate a bomb at a BLM facility in Arizona unaware that his small organization was highly infiltrated by federal authorities at the time.
Keebler had previously worked the security detail at Finicum’s Kanab, Utah funeral. In February, Finicum’s widow Jeanette Fincum told the Salt Lake Tribune that Keebler was one of two “main security specialists and advisors” under Cope Reynolds, the head of the Finicum family security team.
Last December, Bundy supporter, Schuyler Barbeau was charged with illegal possession of an AR-15 semi-automatic 5.56mm caliber assault rifle with a 10.5-inch barrel and a sight. The weapon had been illegally altered and Barbeau had allegedly tried to sell it in order to buy a rifle capable of firing 7.62 mm rounds, the type of ammunition used in Soviet-style AK47 rifles.
According to the court documents in Barbeau’s case,
“Barbeau believed this type of rifle would be more effective in shoot-outs with law enforcement.”
More importantly, although none have yet to be found, the search warrant issued on Barbeau includes eleven mentions of explosives. Barbeau had told an informant that he stole blasting caps and detonation cord from his Army National Guard unit.
Several of the defendants in the Oregon Standoff attended hearings and protests for Barbeau; including Jon Ritzheimer, Jason Patrick, and Ryan Payne.
Barbeau was a member of the Bundy family’s personal security team; just as Keebler was for the Finicums.
The Oregon prosecution is presently seeking to establish with the Court that the Bundys, and some of their co-defendants and supporters, have demonstrated a clear pattern of ‘bad acts’ since the 2014 Bunkerville Nevada incident. Some of these behaviors and hobbies appear to be frequently aligned with the acquisition and/or the use of explosives.
Meanwhile, back at Malheur during the takeover, A. Bundy, the admitted head of the ragtag militant group, told the FBI they had found explosives in the fire house at the refuge, promising they would “never ever” use them adding,
“It would take somebody that would know what they are doing to use them“.
Obviously, the Bundys are surrounded by people with the knowledge, ability, and it would seem, the inclination, to use explosives.
Bundy supporter Barbera Berg, a woman who had snuck in and out of the refuge in the last days of the final four holdouts, posted a photograph of what she claimed to be explosives on March 12. She said she discovered them in the firehouse at Malheur.
Assumptions by some were that the explosives being talked about in court documents and news reports were the boxes of Flash 21. Below are images taken inside the firehouse by a source who wished to remain anonymous.
Notice in the last picture the open boxes of Flash 21 alongside tools and other materials? In other firehouse photos taken and shared prior to these, the yellow cabinet doors were closed and no Flash 21 was to be seen.
Flash 21A/21B are typically packaged in one-litre plastic bottles. There are 6 bottles of each component in a case. The forest service uses Flash 21 for controlled burns. Flash 21 is not an explosive and is instead mixed with gasoline creating a gel that makes an intensely hot fire when ignited.
Here is a good explainer as to what Flash 21 is and why it would be on-site at Malheur.
On February 11, the FBI put out a press release that included,
“We are concerned about those who have criminal, violent intent.”
A confidential informant in the case said Emry, who wasn’t arrested until May 6, bragged about having a large arsenal and claimed also to have access to grenades. But, Emry had somehow failed to get the stolen “Ma Deuce” machine gun onto the refuge during the standoff according to the informant.
In an AP article Feb. 12, Larry Karl, the assistant special agent in charge of the Portland FBI said,
“There was flammable liquid and hazardous materials stored at the site before the armed takeover, and the FBI had information that ‘certain materials’ might have been brought to the refuge by the protesters.”
Scott Willingham, another co-defendant who was a part of the takeover security force, told Oregonian‘s Les Zaitz that Emry was at the refuge because of his weapons expertise. Emry testified in a 2004 federal case in Tennessee that he had constructed a large bomb as well as manufactured 66 illegal machine guns. He became a cooperating witness in that case and was never charged.
According to a July 11 filing, Payne attorney Lisa Hay had asked the Court to suppress any and all evidence obtained from the search of Payne’s Dropbox account, including any and all evidence derived therefrom.
The warrant in question was executed on April 1, the same day another warrant was filed for accessing the social media accounts, cell phones, and email accounts of Payne and several of his co-defendants. The judge later ruled the social media evidence stands and would not be suppressed. Deborah Jordan, girlfriend of dually indicted co-defendant Pete Santilli, said that 2-years of “private” Facebook messages were being used aginst Santilli and others in the indictment.
The move to suppress Payne’s Dropbox files is now a moot point to use as evidence against Payne as he has since made a plea deal in Oregon and is negotiating one for Nevada. He will face up to 12-years in prison with the new arrangement.
Whether the information in Payne’s Dropbox is used against any of the other 25 co-defendants in Oregon, or the other 18 in Nevada, remains to be seen. What we do know is with the warrant, the FBI was able to obtain all of Payne’s Dropbox files between August 18, 2014, and the present.
What exactly Payne had stored in his Dropbox is anyone’s guess and the “fruits” of the investigators’ search could be a massive win for the prosecution. The government’s counter motion stated,
“The warrant also sought evidence that Mr. Payne was planning ‘additional actions against law enforcement and the federal government’ with individuals associated with the group Operation Mutual Defense (“OMD”).”
Payne also used a private listserv that he, or someone else with OMD, somehow forgot to mark private. Apparently, the contents had been available to the public the whole time. Oregon co-defendant Ritzheimer, along with militia kingpin Gary Hunt and others, were a part of the email service.
In a March 9, Oregonian article by long-time staff writer, Maxine Bernstein, it was first reported that Oregon co-defendant, Jason Blomgren, had told authorities upon his arrest about the explosives the occupiers had at the refuge. Bernstein writes,
“Blomgren told authorities that the occupation leaders never booby-trapped the wildlife sanctuary but talked about using ‘IEDS,’ or improvised explosive devices, when planning for a worst-case scenario and using at least two drones to spy on the FBI, the prosecutor said.”
A source close to the case, who wished to be unnamed, denies the explosives Blomgren speaks of were meant to be used as a “worst-case scenario” or even as a defense. The confidential source said the explosives were live-rigged by Payne and intended to be used for offensive maneuvers in Harney County. Other devices had been rigged to be used at the refuge itself.
All of the explosive devices were later unrigged before the occupation’s leadership left for John Day on January 26, according to the source.
On July 6, Bundy cheerleader Sarah Redd Buck, who has her own family history with the BLM, posted to Facebook claiming federal prosecutors are threatening those who are jailed with an additional charge that would land them 30 more years in prison on top of the charges they are already facing. This came on the heels of both Brian ‘Booda’ Cavalier and Blaine Cooper’s plea deals.
Adding to the growing mystery about explosives, extremism expert JJ MacNab, Tweeted a response to Buck’s post stating,
“Explosives carry a 30-year minimum sentence.”
In a July 20, broadcast of Think Out Loud, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s news content manager, Ryan Haas, commented on Payne’s plea deal echoing what has been in the mind of many who have followed the case closely when he said,
“Ryan Payne was one of the leaders of Oregon Standoff. His guilty plea likely means there was strong evidence against him.”
Whatever that strong evidence is, could also be used against others. Was there an explosive plan conceived by a renegade Payne?
Plea deals made in secret often stay a secret throughout the course of trials and the years that follow. The curious crowd of onlookers may never see the real devil in the plea deal details.
*DISCLAIMER: Upon publishing, Idaho Three Percenter, Brandon Curtiss, claims Emry did not convoy with them to Burns. However, Emry’s TVOI has reported that he did on Project Camelot.
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