By CHERI ROBERTS for Challenging the Rhetoric
With their cases rested and a jury in deliberation, attorneys on both sides of the Oregon Standoff can only collectively hold their breath and wait along with brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their five co-defendants in the first of what is currently slated to be two trials.
Early this year, the Bundy brothers, along with several others, took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) some 30-miles outside of Burns, Oregon. They are charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers through intimidation, threats or force, possession of firearms in a federal facility, and theft of govt. property.
During the trial, the govt. argued that the defendants had turned the refuge into a “fortress” during the armed occupation that lasted 41-days and resulted in the shooting death of rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and the indictment of dozens of participants in the standoff.
The Bundys and others publicly called for supporters to join them at the refuge, urging them to “bring their arms”.
Vetting those who heeded their call was not a Bundy strong suit.
Over the past several weeks of the trial, we have heard testimony from witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense in the case, but most surprising to many was the testimony relating to, and from, govt. informants who are said to have provided inside intelligence to authorities during the course of the occupation.
One informant stands accused, by Bundy supporters, as being responsible for Finicum’s death.
Attorneys for occupation leader Ammon Bundy had earlier tried and failed, to compel U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown to release the identities of 15 informants in the case, claiming their clients could not be charged with conspiracy to impede federal employees if their cohorts were actually working for the govt.
Defense attorneys also implied a deeper conspiracy or “honeypot” situation may have transpired in Oregon, placing blame on the govt. as the real co-conspirators in any alleged crime.
What the defense did not address regarding informants and a possible “honeypot” is that at least one of the named informants bent over backward trying to get people to not go to the refuge, and while he himself was at the refuge, spent much of his time there talking occupiers into leaving. He was quite successful in his efforts.
The defense took great pains alluding that it was the 15 mostly unnamed informants who are responsible for the muddied waters of this case. Attorneys questioned whether or not these informants could have influenced and/or coerced the accused, even suggesting that the informants perhaps planted evidence and lied in reports to their handlers.
Now, nine months after the takeover began, the jury deliberates, and we wait.
Did the govt. provide enough evidence for convictions?
Did the defense plant enough seeds of doubt for acquittals?
Weight Bearing Verdict
It will be days, or even weeks, before the jury comes to a unanimous vote, if they ever do. There is also always the possibility of a hung jury. Any guilty verdicts will assuredly be appealed.
The outcome of this trial is pivotal in what happens next in Oregon and whether or not there will even be a second trial. The outcome of this verdict will also likely have some bearing on what could happen in the related Nevada case.
Recreational speculation has become a national past-time and as the minutes and hours of deliberation tic on in the Oregon case, the relatively small spattering of unaffiliated spectators still paying attention, are not exempt from the activity.
In addition, the Bundys and their supporters continue to crank out misinformation at the speed of light while bolstering their hopes with prayers for a Celestial intervention on the defendant’s behalf.
The continued finger pointing, fearmongering, and willful proliferation of partial truths and outright lies by supporters, paired with continued taunts and ridicule from non-supporters, ensures the underlying anti-government angst will continue to spread long after any guilty or not guilty verdict is reached.
To be fair, some attention should be given to some of the arguments made by the defense and more than a fleeting thought afforded the questions related to the govt. informants. If thinking everything is the govt’s fault is an extreme thought, then thinking nothing is ever the govt’s fault is its ignorant twin sister.
The three individuals that have been named as informants in the Oregon case, are Arizona resident Mark McConnell, California resident Terri Linnell, and Nevada resident Fabio Minoggio.
Another man named Kevin Preusse, who has never been officially named as a CHS, intentionally exposed himself early into the refuge situation claiming he is and has been a confidential informant for the govt. since the 2015 Sugar Pine incident in Josephine County, Oregon. Sugar Pine was another operation that involved militia, the Bundys, and the Oath Keepers.
Whether Preusse is really one of the 15 CHS’s, has not been confirmed.
Thus far, none of the Oath Keepers, including Rhodes, have been officially identified to the public as any of the 15 informants in the Oregon Standoff case, although co-defendant Jon Ritzheimer’s reaction to receiving discovery in his conspiracy case paints a different picture.
On September 21, Oregon State Police (OSP) Trooper, Jeremiah Beckert, unexpectedly, and without provocation or explanation, named Mark McConnell as some sort of “government informant” in open court testimony. Beckert said McConnell provided information on the people and their whereabouts as well as given a “threat assessment” in the lead up to the felony traffic stop where Bundy and others were arrested and Finicum was killed.
When was this alleged “threat assessment” given? Was McConnell texting law enforcement while he was driving with Bundy asleep on the ride to John Day that fateful day?
Beckert had no further information to add beyond that he did not know if McConnell actually worked for a govt. agency.
Equally vague testimony regarding McConnell came from FBI Agent Chad Lapp the following week. Lapp could not confirm how much McConnell was allegedly paid, just that he had seen a proposal for McConnell to be paid by the FBI, and that it was “likely” that he had been.
McConnell said he’d had no advance warning that he would be named as an informant in open court, let alone fingered by the State police and a federal agent respectively.
In a handful of ambiguous Tweets, McConnell has continued to maintain his innocence against the court disclosures. He has said he was not an “informant” nor an “FBI” agent on the Challenging the Rhetoric podcast multiple times. From the first attacks on him beginning in January to the present time, McConnell has been steadfast against those two specific labels.
January In Burns
Melvin Lee, co-founder of Patriotic Warriors, had traveled to Burns to attend the Hammond rally. After the rally, Lee left Oregon to attend a business meeting in California.
Soon after, however, McConnell contacted Lee saying he was en route to Burns to extract a young mother and her baby. The woman’s vehicle was allegedly being used by occupiers for supply runs and being held hostage through intimidation, according to McConnell.
Lee had been in communication with the father of a young man named Matt Wandersee who was at the refuge. Wandersee had borrowed Lee’s phone during the rally to call his father. Later, when the father could not reach Wandersee on his own cell phone, he contacted Lee. After talking to the father, Lee went back to Burns to extricate Wandersee and meet up with McConnell.
The two proceeded to convince several people to leave the refuge and were the catalyst for a January 7, meeting, led by Payne, to vote whether to stay or go. The vote was nearly unanimous in favor of leaving, however, according to both Lee and McConnell, they were later told the vote to leave was quickly quashed after they’d driven away.
Several media reports confirmed a mass exodus from the refuge that left less than a dozen occupants still standing firm. It was at this time, there were actually more informants involved in the case, than there were occupiers at the refuge.
How many of those remaining at that time, were also informants?
Co-defendant Brian “Booda” Cavalier is a “cooperating witness” for the prosecution in the Oregon case, but was he more? Is he counted as one of the “15”?
Man Of Principle
About 3-months before the January standoff in Oregon began, sometime in late October or early November of 2015, Lee met McConnell at an Arizona Border Recon (AZBR) operation. The head of AZBR, Tim Foley aka “Nailer” later told Lee that he had known McConnell for a couple of years by that point. However, in the height of “fed” claims by “Patriots” after the death of LaVoy, Foley told YouTuber Chaos View that AZBR had been “infiltrated”.
Lee has stood up to his peers and others on the subject of McConnell for months. There has been no official confirmation that Lee is anything but what he has said he is, however, he too has been accused by Bundy supporters and fellow militia members of being a fed or informant because of that support.
Although Lee is aware of the increased scrutiny since McConnell was named in court, he basically has a fuck it attitude and said he stands behind everything he did in Burns before, during, and after the occupation.
According to Lee, after the January arrests of the leadership, he and others like Idaho lll%’er Brandon Curtiss, tried to help negotiate with and for the FBI to get people out of the refuge.
Is that enough for Lee, or Curtiss, to be included on the list of “15”?
Maybe, but Lee, at least, doesn’t care.
Conspiracy By Number
On the idea of so many informants involved in the case, Lee says he “agrees with government agencies using informants to gather intel to stop domestic terrorists”, but he also added that he does not agree with agencies “using those same informants to set someone up, or to push them to perform an illegal act.”
Regardless of what McConnell or other’s actual roles were during the occupation, the mere confirmation that so many informants were involved has spun supporters deeper into the abyss of paranoid govt. conspiracy theories.
To their credit, however, there has been enough shadow cast to make some wonder.
For instance, according to Minoggio’s testimony, he was asked to provide firearms training during his brief time at the refuge. It has not, however, been revealed by whom he was asked.
Occupiers impressed by Minoggio’s Swiss Army skills seeking out his expertise would be one thing. The govt. asking Minoggio to provide such training to the occupiers, as some defense attorneys in the case have suggested, would be a whole different thing.
As innocent as the answer may be, the blank space of no answer has already come at a cost.
This is not a conspiracy theory. It’s another lost opportunity by the govt.
Because judge Brown limited discussion regarding the informants in the case, and because the confirmed informants themselves have outwardly behaved in ways that muck up the mire, a real conversation about the potential influence informants had in this case, has not been had.
What are the guidelines that keep an undercover investigation into potential crimes from becoming an attempt at coercion and entrapment? And, what happens when those guidelines are neglected, or acts by agents or informants are indeed the encouraging factor in the furtherance of a crime?
Most conspiracy theories have a basis of truth, however small, in the ultimate tales that are told. Those created, surrounding the Oregon Standoff, will be no different. However, one should not discount the merit of a national conversation that candidly addresses the potential ill-gotten influence an informant with an agenda can have and the impact that influence can wreak on this particular set of people.
The Bundys and their cause have attracted a following of supporters who feel disenfranchised and impotent. In the Oregon case, the “Patriot” community, including at least one informant, cried foul over informants long before any were officially acknowledged or identified or they were exposed.
Claiming another is a “fed” or some other type of “agent” or “shill” is as common as saying “amen” in many of these groups. The blind faith in accepting either sentiment is equal.
The furthest reaching fruit is the only fruit the “Patriot” movement dines on. Anything apparent or within reach couldn’t possibly be true in their world and displays of public paranoia are rewarded and reinforced from within by reciprocal pats on the back. They are hungry for and simultaneously suspicious of, any and all attention their antics garner.
Open calls to action and arms have been a perfect point of entrance for potential informants seeking attention, notoriety, revenge, vindication, financial gain, favored legal treatment, or any number of other incentives that may guide them. The depth of infiltration and/or the breadth of discord within this movement is seemingly immense, historical, and ongoing.
Technology itself has also opened doors to informing like never before. There is a pervasive atmosphere of “gotchya” perpetrated by disgruntled American’s who are actively using that same technology to work and/or beat the system.
For example, did Terri Linnell, who testified for the Oregon Standoff defense, become an informant for the mere purpose of spitting in the “tyrannical” government’s face on their own dime?
This is not a far-fetched idea considering we already have existing American lawmakers and enforcers who have rallied around such things. We have citizens running for political office for no other reason than to uplift the Bundy cause and support the Bundy’s wild west ways. Linnell herself was once a Congressional Tea Party candidate.
What role did all of these informants really play? And, maybe, more importantly, why did they play their roles at all?
Rarely does an informant inform out of the goodness of their heart. When does their intent matter in the veracity of a bigger picture?
Linnell stated she became upset over the presence of children at the refuge and of the sovereign citizen involvement in the occupation, noting that as her trigger point to help the govt. She stated that on January 11, her handler contacted her with concerns that there may be a bad element of influence over A. Bundy, adding that her handler told her the FBI’s “attempts to get any informants into the compound failed.”.
The date of this alleged call between Linnell and her handler, in context to her statement about informants, is in direct conflict with the fact that McConnell had already traveled to and from Harney County and had been in and out of the refuge by that date.
Linnell said she intended for her testimony to be helpful to the defense, not the govt. And although she admits it, Linnell does not actually account for the fact that she has been informing on the “Patriot” and militia movement since as early as March of last year, when she was initially questioned about liberty movement leader, Virginia resident, Manny Vega.
It is worth noting that at the time, Vega was tied to Jaime Spears Aldazabal via Independence Solutions Inc, a corporation they filed in the State of Florida on February 15, 2015. The “registered agent” on the business filing is Florida resident Debra Spears, Aldazabal’s mother. Vega had bragged that he would be making “hundreds of thousands of dollars a month” with Independence Solutions.
Less than two weeks earlier, Blaine Cooper, a co-defendant in both the Oregon and Nevada standoff cases, started THIRD WATCH PRODUCTIONS. Aldazabal is the “registered agent” for that corporation. Cooper had bragged that he was making around “$30,000 a week” with Third Watch. Some within the “Patriot” movement had accused Cooper of stealing the equipment for his corporation from militia base, Camp Lone Star. One has to wonder where the equipment and/or money in fact came from.
Why did Linnell volunteer Vega’s name, and not others, to the court as well as in her public letter? Was it because of his ties to Aldazabal, her sworn enemy?
For years, Linnel has publicly called Aldazabal out as a paid govt. informant. The two women had previous business dealings that ended badly.
Whether Aldazabal is in actuality one of the 12 unnamed informants in the Oregon case, or has ever been an informant in any previous case(s), is unknown.
What is more universally important is why was Linnell, a now confirmed informant, allowed to point fingers and endanger Aldazabal and others she has accused, while potentially jeopardizing a presumed ongoing investigation? Why was she allowed to name-drop Vega confirming the government had an interest in him at all?
Anyone who has paid even the tiniest bit of attention to the #Oregonstandoff has witnessed the vacuous cycle of their he said she said world.
Did Linnell’s previous or current personal relationships with people like Aldazabal, drive any decisions she made as an informant, or taint any information she provided to the prosecution, the defense, or to the public? Was this Linnell’s opportunity to flip off “the Man” and stick the screws to those she simply didn’t like?
McConnell’s flippant dance around Becket and Lapp’s testimony continues the game of smoke and mirrors the “Patriots” are only too willing to play.
Although he has publicly admitted to nothing that was revealed in court testimony, McConnell makes no bones about how he feels about those who are under indictment and their supporters. When asked whether he would like to see acquittals or convictions, McConnell said he hoped for convictions adding, “I’m tired of this shit and if they get off they will probably try to adverse possession the damn White House.”
McConnell continues to work border operations with other militia members and says the response he has received since Beckert uttered his name in the Portland courtroom, has been mostly positive.
Minoggio seemed to have no real incentive for going to Malheur, including financial. He appeared to have previous ties with some militias and people who occupied the MNWR, at least by way of social media, for some time. How long had he been informing for the govt. prior to the events in Harney County?
All three of the named informants had ties to the “Patriot” movement and/or militia groups before there was ever any talk of interventions on behalf of now jailed Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, or before any plans were discussed to take over Malheur. Some even had ties before the 2014 Bunkerville incident.
Were any of these three, and/or any of the unnamed 12 informants, already a part of ongoing investigations into the movement before getting caught up in the wave of Bunkerville or Malheur? How many informants in Oregon are also informants in the Nevada case? How many were involved with the Sugar Pine mine event? How many of these informants informed only because they were threatened with charges or had a personal beef with another player? And, how many didn’t become informants until they themselves were unhappy with the people or situations they previously supported?
That was a lot of questions, but the greater question, or rather, concern for average citizens, regarding informants in the Oregon case and others, should be whether or not the government’s use of informants in these types of cases is addressing these acts in a positive way that effectively decreases the likelihood of repeat situations.
Setting the Hammonds and public lands aside, the aggressive actions taken at Malheur by Bundy occupiers was allegedly largely meant to shine so-called “sunlight” on perceived injustices and govt. infringements while calling for greater transparency.
By not allowing the defense to delve into what parts if any, the 15 informants in the Oregon case played in the evidence against them, the United States Govt. has only added fuel to the conspiracy fodder this movement was largely built upon.
By default, Brown’s refusal reinforces their perception that governments can do as they please, unaccountable to those it accuses and detains.
These are not good things.
True believers of any cause or ideology are cultic in nature, not just criminal. Investigations that do not approach the situation(s) accordingly do little more than pound square pegs into round holes creating splinters that affect us all.
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- Spencer Sunshine on Challenging the Rhetoric talking Oregon’s Patriot Movement, Sovereign Citizens, Militias, and His New Report, ‘Up in Arms’
- Bundy “Patriots” Concocting Conspiracy Theories Slandering Internet Talk Show Host Pete Santilli
- A Pretrial Loss for Oregon Standoff’s Pete Santilli
- BACKGROUND MOTIVES: Bundy “Patriot” Al Hinds Convicted in ’99 for Child Rape
- Oregon Standoff’s Jason Blomgren Tried to Strangle Brother in 2010 and Possessed a Stolen Gun in 2013
- Dually Indicted Armed Standoff Defendant Blaine Cooper Says he Lied Under Oath and “Stands in Defiance ’til the End”
- Deb Jordan says Oregon Standoff Co-Defendant Jason Blomgren Will Testify for Prosecution About Explosives at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
- Is a Mental Health Plea Coming for Oregon Standoff Co-Defendant David Fry?
- Deb Jordan Says Unindicted Co-Conspirators in the Oregon Standoff Have Been Identified
- SSG Moe Says Some “Patriots” are Witness Tampering