There's basically no reason for militias who hunkered down at a Montana mine in anticipation of a showdown with the federal government to be there, officials told the Great Falls Tribune.
An armed, camouflage-wearing militia group gathered at White Hope Mine in Lincoln last week at the request of the mine owners. The group is led by the Oath Keepers, who are best known for hunkering down at Bundy Ranch in Nevada last year during a stand-off between rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management over illegal cattle grazing.
Mine owner George Kornec and operator Phil Nappo asked for the group's assistance when the Forest Service notified them their mine was not in compliance. But Forest Service officials said accusations that they are using "strong arm tactics" against the miners are not true.
"The groups in Lincoln have rallied around a falsehood," David Smith, spokesman for the Forest Service, told the Tribune. "There have been no plans for the Forest Service to forcibly remove any structures on the mine site or to evict Mr. Kornec from the property."
Last week the Oath Keepers put out a call for militia members to join them, the Pacific Patriot Network and the Three Percenters in "Operation Big Sky."
"Owners of the mine and all authorized parties will respond to any unlawful entry to the full extent of the law. Our intention is to run a peaceful security operation. Our position is to protect the rights of these miners thru a open dialogue with the USFS and reach a Legal & Constitutional conclusion," the press release reads.
This week the Forest Service filed a lawsuit asking a judge to prevent the militiamen from threatening federal employees, KTVH reports. The suit also claims the mine owners illegally opened a road, cut down trees and blocked public access in order to allow the militia to set up operations.
According to the Independent Record, the mine operators built a shed on the property without permits, stored explosives, cut firewood and didn’t have an approved operations plan for surface disturbance. Two plans were submitted and rejected, and the mine hasn’t had one approved since 2014.
Smith said the Forest Service has been in the process of doing what the mine owners want them to do -- allow them to continue their operations while in compliance with the law.
The Oath Keepers' press release claims the Forest Service "has no legal standing or precedence for their recent actions, but has taken it upon themselves to require unnecessary permits, enacted stalling techniques, made threats of arson, and strong arm tactics to coax a generation of older miners to submit to unlawful authority, preventing them from working their rightful mining claim."
The Oath Keepers believe that Kornec isn't required to have a current operations on file with the Forest Service because the claim was established before 1955, meaning the claim falls under public domain.
The Forest Service says because the claim lapsed in 1986 when the owners missed a filing deadline, and now falls under a 1955 law that requires an operations plan, the Tribune reports. Kornec has the option to appeal the 1986 lapse in his claim.
"We have had a good working relationship," Smith told the Tribune, "and our objective is for that to continue."
The Oath Keepers in April descended on Oregon at the request of the owner of the Sugar Pine Mining Claim, who feared Bureau of Land Management officials would destroy his property before he was able to remedy permitting issues. But the scene turned into a powder keg when armed volunteers started streaming in, believing another BLM showdown was imminent.
This prompted the mine owner, Rick Barclay, to ask for volunteers to stop coming.
"We don’t need any more volunteers, we’re not under attack, this is not the Bundy Ranch," Barclay had pleaded. "Please stop calling the BLM and threatening their personnel."