Some of the conservative activists who staged an armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife sanctuary last winter now claim that the federal government has placed them on a watchlist for terrorist activity and they can’t understand why.
Oregon Live reported on Saturday that three Malheur Refuge occupiers — seven of whom were acquitted of conspiracy charges in federal court earlier this month — claim that they have been included on the federal government’s terror watchlist, which was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Jon Ritzheimer, 33, Jason Blomgren, 42 and Jeff Banta, 47, say that they have been singled out by airport security of pat-downs and extra screening when they try to fly. Ritzheimer complains that police marked him out for special scrutiny when he was in a minor car accident.
Their airline boarding passes, they say, get printed with “SSSS” — a signal to give the bearer special scrutiny as they move through airport security, according to civil rights lawyers familiar with how the U.S. Transportation Security Authority (TSA) tracks and monitors individuals who could pose a threat to national security.
Blomgren said that anyone checking his criminal history can see that a notice to approach him with caution because he may be a member of a terrorist organization.
The men were among the two dozen people arrested after an armed 41-day standoff at Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. The indictments against them said that the group brandished weapons and threatened violence against anyone who attempted to remove them from the premises. However, they said, none of the charges against them were related to terrorism.
Ritzenheimer — who entered a guilty plea to charges of preventing federal workers from performing their jobs prior to trial — groused that it’s stressful and scary to get patted down every time he tries to board a plane.
“It really gets under my skin,” he told Oregon live. “It’s a traumatic thing to have to go through every time I fly.”
One of the acquitted defendants, Shawna Cox, has reported no problems flying in the U.S., but Brandon Rapolla — one of the leaders of the Pacific Patriots Network militia group — said that he’s been pulled out of line and patted down every time he’s tried to fly since the standoff.
The FBI would neither confirm nor deny that the Malheur occupiers are on the watchlist, but former Terrorist Screening Center director Timothy Healy told Oregon Live that armed takeovers of federal property are considered acts of domestic terrorism, so it’s fairly likely that members of the group will continue to have issues flying.
The National Terrorist Screening Center was established under Pres. George W. Bush to prevent future terror attacks. There are three lists that prospective passengers can find themselves on, the “no fly” list — which bars people from boarding planes altogether — and the less-restrictive “selectee” and “expanded selectee” lists, which single individuals out for extra screening.
Fedor Zarkhin wrote, “To place people on any of those lists, the government doesn’t require a conviction or even a criminal charge — only ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a person is a known or suspected terrorist, according to an internal instructional document obtained by the media.”
Blomgren feels like it’s unfair that he’s considered a security threat.
“We’re not out bombing things, we’re not out destroying things,” he said. “We’re voicing our First Amendment rights that are backed up, that are protected, by our Second Amendment rights.”