By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric
The United States Government has finally released their exhibit list of evidence against individuals who have been charged and detained for their participation in the January armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) 32-miles outside of Burns, Oregon. In the Government’s Trial Memorandum released last week, U.S Attorney Billy D. Williams said the occupiers left weapons, ammunition, and explosives throughout the property.
The occupation, known as the Oregon Standoff, lasted 41-days and the damage to the refuge, the psyche of Burns residents, the State’s budget, and the families attached to those who’ve been charged, has been significant.
But the damage could have been worse. A lot worse.
As CTR reported last week, according to a confidential source, Bundy tactical leader Ryan Payne had an explosive plan. Payne had at least four occupiers who directly reported to him, not Ammon Bundy. Co-defendant Jason “Joker J” Blomgren was just one of Payne’s four men.
At the time of his arrest, Blomgren, one of the original 26 co-defendants in the Oregon case, told authorities they had talked about using IEDs or improvised explosive devices “in a worst case scenario”.
The confidential source from the refuge denies the explosives Blomgren speaks of were meant to be used as a “worst-case scenario” or even as a defense. Instead, the explosives were rigged and Payne had intended targets in Harney County. Other devices were also rigged to be used at the refuge, according to the source. At least some of the devices were said to have timers like those found in grocery stores in the kitchen gadget aisle.
The source says all of the devices had been dismantled and left unrigged before the January 26, arrests of the occupation leadership and the shooting death of rancher LaVoy Finicum.
At least some explosives were known to law enforcement from the very beginning. According to the arresting document from the January 26 arrests of occupation leaders, that included Ammon Bundy, Ryan 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.”
That tip came from a confidential informant (CI) the day of the takeover.
So, the question of those explosives still remains. What kind of explosive materials did the militants have on hand and/or have access to?
There were no definitive answers regarding the explosives in the government’s evidence exhibit, nor in their trial memo outside of a mention, however, there are some clues.
Let’s take a look …
ETs are commercially available explosives kits consisting of binary explosives and are widely used by firearms enthusiasts as shot indicators at shooting ranges. Binary explosives are mixtures of two nonexplosive precursors—an oxidizer and a fuel that are stored and transported separately. Binary explosive precursors do not form an explosive until the two components are thoroughly mixed.
Although legal and fun for target practice, Tannerite, and other ETs have been used as the main ingredient in some IEDs according to the FBI. Tannerite is mostly made up of ammonia nitrate which is the same ingredient that was used in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, including children. It has also been used by terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as by other domestic extremists in the United States.
The individual components of exploding targets are not regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) because they do not meet the definition of “explosives” outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 27 §555.11. Once the binary components are mixed, the result is then considered an explosive material and subject to ATF regulatory requirements.
Tannerite targets or ETs were dubbed “bomb kits for dummies” by Maryland’s bomb squad head. Maryland was the first state to regulate exploding targets. Some California jurisdictions now also regulate their use and the U.S. Forest Service has banned ETs on its property in five western states (Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas). Somehow, Oregon never made that list.
According to the FBI, ETs can easily be used to make IEDs by adding common gasoline, diesel, propane tanks, or another fuel source. In a March 5, 2013, intelligence bulletin a month before the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI warned,
“The FBI assesses with high confidence recreationally used exploding targets (ETs), commonly referred to as Tannerite, or reactive targets, can be used as an explosive for illicit purposes by criminals and extremists and explosive precursor chemicals (EPCs) present in ETs can be combined with other materials to manufacture explosives for use in improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”
Anyone can purchase ETs without a Federal Firearms License (FEL) and have them shipped without expensive hazardous materials shipping fees or placards. This makes ETs relatively easy and cheap to purchase in gun stores, sporting goods stores, online marketplaces, and auction houses. ETs are also available online directly from manufacturers.
Although more expensive than fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate which retails for about 19 cents per pound, Tannerite is easier to acquire. Many manufacturers sell ETs in individual half-pound containers, which cost approximately $5 each or $10 per pound. Some manufacturers sell bulk bags of up to 50 pounds at a reduced cost of roughly $3.50 per pound.
According to the government’s exhibit, the Tannerite containers found at the refuge had been emptied. There are at least 10-pounds of Tannerite that is unaccounted for. Gasoline was also missing according to the exhibit list.
Tannerite bomb recipes are found all over the internet and their detonations can cause heavy damage. The video below demonstrates the type of explosion only 5-pounds of Tannerite with 2-gallons of gas creates.
There were no explosions ever noted, reported or said to be witnessed at the refuge. It is unlikely the occupiers actually used the Tannerite targets for their intended use while at the refuge or it would have been noticed by authorities keeping careful watch on the goings on at Malheur during the takeover.
In addition to the missing Tannerite and gasoline, and their capability of producing dangerous IEDs, there was also a healthy store of the gelling agent, Flash 21 A/B already on-site in the refuge firehouse when the occupiers arrived with their arsenal of guns, ammunition and other weaponry.
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 have already been on-site at Malheur.
What is interesting, is although Flash 21 is not an explosive, under the right circumstances it can be made into one. For instance, Flash 21 paired with gasoline in pressurized vessels with a timer and a detonator would produce an incredible explosion without the bomb maker anywhere nearby spreading Napalm like material everywhere in the blast zone.
In addition, the intense heat created by Flash 21 could have also added to the impact of any Tannerite and gasoline IEDs that were produced. According to two weapons experts, extreme heat itself could set off a Tannerite explosion without the typical impact of an AR-15 or other high-velocity weapon seen in target practice.
Today, individuals are allowed to manufacture explosives for their own personal, non-business use under federal law. There is currently no federal limit on how much explosives an individual can make.
Time will tell.
Many Bundy supporters have cried foul claiming the govt. is threatening to add enhanced terrorism charges to some of the defendant’s current charges in both the Oregon and Nevada standoff cases in order to leverage plea deals. Charges in Nevada are much more extensive and that could be why no charges for the explosives in Oregon have been made. More on the explosives is sure to come out during the many trials.
A September 7 trial is set for the first round of co-defendants to include brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Pete Santilli, Shawna Cox, David Fry and Jeff Banta. Another trial, for co-defendants who were granted a continuance, is scheduled for Valentine’s Day 2017. Thus far, 9 of the Oregon co-defendants, including Ryan Payne, have pleaded out. At least three who have already pleaded in Oregon are also under indictment for the April 2014 Bunkerville, Nevada armed confrontation with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) near Bundy Ranch, along with several others.
- Government Exhibit List
- Government Trial Memorandum
- Ryan Payne’s OREGON Plea Deal PDF
- Jason Blomgren’s OREGON Plea Deal PDF
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