The standoff between federal agents and armed supporters of a Nevada rancher was a coordinated effort by far-right militia members, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The Bundy ranch standoff wasn’t a spontaneous response to Cliven Bundy’s predicament, but rather a well-organized, military-type action that reflects the potential for violence from a much larger and more dangerous movement,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow in the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.
The report, which was issued Thursday, found a Montana militia leader helped orchestrate the placement of snipers who trained rifles at federal agents attempting to round up Bundy’s cattle over unpaid grazing fees.
The snipers’ actions constituted a felony, the SLPC report argued, but federal authorities backed down.
According to the report, 30-year-old Ryan Payne, an electrician and former soldier, admitted to SPLC investigators that he and Bundy scouted public lands the rancher had been using to discover strategies to defend them, and they eventually placed snipers in position before the standoff came to a head.
“Not only did they take up the very best position to overwatch everything, they also had the high ground -- they were fortified with concrete and pavement barriers,” Payne said. “They had great lines of fire and then, when I sent in that other team, for counter-sniper positions, [federal agents] were completely locked down. They had no choice but to retreat.”
Payne, who heads the Operation Mutual Aid group, boasted that militia members had “overwhelming tactical superiority.”
The incident highlights the need for better training of law enforcement officials to respond to a movement that increasingly targets them, the report says.
But that would require additional resources from the Department of Homeland Security, which allowed the unit investigating domestic terror threats to wither in the face of conservative criticism.
The SLPC report, “War in the West,” found the Bundy ranch standoff had energized militia groups and other factions in the anti-government “Patriot” movement.
“This incident may have faded from public view, but if our government doesn’t pay attention, we will be caught off guard as much as the Bureau of Land Management was that day,” Potok said.
The Patriot movement has experienced a growth surge since President Barack Obama was elected – growing from about 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year.
The report also found 17 shooting incidents involving anti-government extremists and law enforcement officers since 2009.
The Bundy ranch incident remains under investigation, and some militia members and other sympathizers remain there, making contacts and sharing tactics.
Two of those sympathizers, Jerad and Amanda Miller – who spent time at the ranch before they were asked to leave – shot two police officers and another to death last month in Las Vegas before dying in a shootout with police.
Their social media history indicated they held a variety of fringe views that was informed by pro-gun, anti-government groups such as the Three Percenters.
The BLM has encountered other antigovernment activists since April’s Bundy standoff in New Mexico, Utah, Texas, and Idaho, the report found.
The SLPC report faulted lawmakers and conservative commentators, including Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Fox News pundit Sean Hannity, for encouraging anti-government extremists over the Bundy dispute.
“The Bundy ranch standoff may be a preview of things to come if the federal government doesn’t come to terms with the true nature of this volatile extremist movement,” Potok said. “Two decades after the deadly debacle at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, federal officials continue to struggle with their approach to radical-right extremists who threaten and use violence to achieve their political goals.”
Watch this interview with Ryan Payne posted online by Southern Nevada Watchdogs: