The following is a rare, exclusive interview with a source who was present alongside the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, currently occupying the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, near Burns, Oregon. He detailed his journey with the militia, on the condition that his identity be protected. The man, who asked to be identified as “John,” described a surprisingly simple process that took him from his daily life to an increasing paradoxical and potentially dangerous situation in Oregon.
SOFREP: In your own words, can you give us an overview of what it has been like to be there?
John: Upon arrival, I was greeted by members of leadership and immediately welcomed, offered food and lodging, and was asked to await a further “vetting” process. After entering a mess hall on the far east side of the refuge, I immediately noticed how much it resembled that of a hunting lodge. The women seemed to have taken up the role of providing for the men, who began to disperse after a fixin’ of biscuits and gravy.
Machines started up, diesel trucks began to idle, and garage doors lifted. Every man had a job, whether to use the skid steer to remove snow from the interior roads or relieve the night-watch crew from the lookout tower. It was very clear that we had a specific purpose as stewards of this property that rightfully belongs to the ranchers and farmers of Harney County.
Ammon Bundy is a very well-spoken, kindhearted, driven man with clear goals about his intentions here at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Whenever he came down the hill from the leadership offices/area, he continually thanked us for our presence and reminded us that unless the local farmers asked us to leave, we were going to follow through with ensuring that every acre of land was rightfully distributed back to its owner.
As the days progressed, the most recent militia that arrived (including me) waited to be vetted by internal security. People drove here from many different states, from as far away as Arizona and Texas (Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, as well), and came from all walks of life: electricians, gunsmiths, retired veterans, and even those who were unemployed. The cause was clear: defending the constitutional right of these individuals to own and utilize BLM land that was wrongfully seized from them.
There was already an upper leadership structure in place when I arrived. Ammon and Ryan Bundy were escorted by their personal security, a guy they call “Buddha.” We referred to him as “Fluffy Unicorn,” his radio call sign. Apparently, Fluffy Unicorn is actually Cliven Bundy’s personal bodyguard, but Cliven decided it was in his best interest to stay behind at the Bundy Ranch and that his sons, Ammon and Ryan, were more than capable of handling the situation. There is a congressional lawyer here, Mellissa, who follows Fluffy around most of the time and is present during the press conferences, which occur every day at 11 a.m. Another person of interest is Lavoy Finicum, who has also been a very active player. He’s very upfront with the press about our goals of reestablishing the rights of the land to the residents of Harney County. Other big players include Ryan Payne, Blaine Cooper, and John Ritzenheimer, who seem to be the lead militiamen behind the initiative. Ryan was present at the Sugar Pine Mine protests as well as Bundy Ranch.
On the inside, there seems to be a sense of camaraderie growing as we all seek to understand each other’s purpose for being here and attempt to get to know one another. We have voted on three main elected militia leadership individuals: Ryan Payne, Jon Ritzenheimer, and a MARSOC sniper and Vietnam War vet from Arizona who we refer to as “Wolf.” The militia has been divided amongst these three groups, but there was not enough time for us to get clear instructions on tasks and duties just yet.
What is the ultimate purpose behind the occupation?
The ultimate purpose behind the occupation was to give this land (Malheur Wildlife Refuge) back to its rightful/original owners—the ranchers and farmers of Harney County who were using it for grazing cattle. The basis behind the argument is Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which says that the federal government has no authority to own any land outside of 10 square miles in D.C., and that which is necessary to operate forts and ports.
What is your personal experience with the federal government overstepping its bounds where land is concerned?
Many of the supporters or militia who occupied the refuge, and those who arrived following the occupation, were present at many of the previous occupations, such as those at Sugar Pine Mine and Bundy Ranch.
How do you think this standoff will end?
Most agree and hope that this standoff ends with the federal government retracting its control and returning the land to its lawful owners—the people of Harney County.
Do you think firearms add a sense of seriousness to this occupation?
Firearms were used for protection and defense. No violent or aggressive acts have been used or taken.
Under what conditions will the militiamen leave the facility?
Should the local populace decide they no longer want them there, or until every acre is returned to its rightful owners.
Are they prepared to kill law enforcement officers if they are forcefully evicted?
I believe some of the more extremist supporters might be, should it come down to that. I would say there were only five or six extreme guys there who were armed and had that outlook. How many of those would’ve actually killed? I can’t say. I doubt they would, but you never know.
In their own words, who are they: militia, protesters, or activists?
This was quite a debate. Ryan Payne was insistent we used the term “militia,” however the Bundys’ bodyguard ‘Buddha’ stated he wished we used a different term—”steward.” Ryan quoted the 2nd Amendment, “a well-regulated militia,” when addressing the group and stated that we should elect leadership amongst ourselves and be separated into groups/teams.
Do you know anything about the new Bundy security committee entering the site to reinforce the militia?
I do not know much about this specific committee, but from what I understood, it was a committee set in place to continue the oversight and watch of the refuge after there had been progress made on returning it to its rightful owners.
What are the types of weapons and amounts of ammo onsite?
Many were carrying sidearms. I saw a few full-size Glocks, Sigs, and numerous 1911s. Most were carried in leg holsters or OWB retention holsters with extra mags. I did not see many boxes of handgun ammo. However, Jon Ritzenheimer said his silver F-150 did have five to 10 ammo boxes full of loaded AR-15 magazines and shotgun shells. In total, I counted approximately five AR platforms present.
Can you describe the pattern of life?
The wives/girlfriends present would cook three meals each day, typically. Most of the people were not sleeping much; they would take short naps while on post. There were only 25 militiamen at the beginning of the standoff. After the phony FBI scare, a few left and there were only about 15-20 who remained. The following is a Google Earth screenshot of the compound with labels. There was a mess hall, barracks quarters, and an HQ building where Ammon and his personal security stayed.
Can you describe how well the facility is secured?
Generally there are two people per post. There were three posts—front gate, back gate, and tower watch. No patrol routes, just stationary guard, but mostly just to monitor press—not necessarily looking for invaders. People were free to move about the compound, really. I was told when they took over the compound, they found doors unlocked, with keys to other buildings and vehicles left out. So we utilized their trucks and transportation for the most part to get around.
How would you best describe the command structure?
Initially it was Ryan and Ammon who were in front of the press, followed by their personal security, and then the militia, but we sat down and a had a group meeting, and decided on a sort of trapezoidal structure with three leaders/groups/teams. Jon Ritzenheimer, Ryan Payne, and “Wolf” were elected leaders.
Can you describe the environment and atmosphere? The morale, health, welfare, and sentiment of those inside?
Morale was very high, especially when news was brought about locals arriving and showing their support. This was furthered when locals dropped off firewood and food for us. Besides lacking sleep, most of the men were in good health and came prepared for the cold weather.
How does the logistical situation look? (Power, food, waste management, fuel)
There were many small generators spread around the compound. There were also multiple large propane and diesel tanks. There was a large dumpster for refuse.
How does the militia interact and maintain rapport with the local population?
As stated before, most of the local ranchers and farmers came to show their support, and others came to gain an understanding. They would talk with the Bundys for a bit, then leave with knowledge of what was occurring and what the plan of action was.
Can you describe the integration and acceptance of those who showed up in support—the volunteer pathway?
Basically, the gates were open. People just rolled in and shook hands. They did want to vet you, but it became so busy there was little time to actually do this.
Is there any known plan for use of the construction equipment shown in the background of the photos? Is there a plan to develop fortifications, or to reinforce current structures?
The construction equipment was moved into place after we heard the FBI was coming. The guys wanted solid cover should anything happen. It turned out to be a press move to try to keep the media by the front gate. This ended up being a recurring theme. Jon wanted us to pull out our long guns and make a show of force by the gates Tuesday evening as the press started to disappear.
What does an average day look like from inside the facility?
Once the guys woke up or returned from their evening post, they would eat the breakfast that had been prepared, then hang around until the 11 a.m. daily press conference. Following the press conference was a ‘what’s the latest’ group transmission from Ryan and Jon, where we would get the latest on what was planned for the day.
How well do the Bundys interact with their followers?
I interacted with Ammon many times; he was very well-spoken and thankful for our presence. I interacted with Ryan fewer times, but when I did, he was also very thankful for our presence.