American Patriot: Inside the Armed Uprising Against the Federal GovernmentView film
AMMON BUNDY: I’m the son of a rancher. That’s what I am, and I don’t want to be anything more than that.
My family established a homestead in the Virgin Valley in southern Nevada in 1877, and they began to run cattle. I had always dreamed about being able to ranch. But the federal government has turned its eyes as modern conquerors and focused on controlling the land and the resources.
We are at a dangerous time. And I’m not just talking about ranchers. I’m talking about all aspects of what this nation was built on.
NARRATOR: When we met Ammon Bundy, he was facing the possibility of life in prison. He had been called a hero and a criminal, a patriot, and a domestic terrorist.
Ammon claimed he never wanted to be anything more than a rancher, but in 2016, he led the largest armed uprising against the federal government in a generation.
TITLE: American Patriot
SUBTITLE: Inside the Armed Uprising Against the Federal Government
NEWSCASTER: The modern-day range war is taking place right now in Bunkerville.
NEWSCASTER: Cliven Bundy’s fight against the feds has ignited a firestorm of debate.
NEWSCASTER: Dozens of armed federal officers are preparing for a showdown with a Nevada cattle rancher.
NEWSCASTER: Rancher Cliven Bundy─
NEWSCASTER: Cliven Bundy says that other cattle ranchers were forced off the land, but he is refusing to leave.
NARRATOR: In the fall of 2013, Ammon Bundy’s family lost a decades-long legal battle with the federal government. They’d been refusing to remove their cattle from public land near Bunkerville, Nevada, and owed over a million dollars in fees and fines.
For 20 years, the government had been trying to phase out ranching in Bunkerville to deal with development and environmental issues. Some ranchers shut down, others took buyouts, but Ammon’s father, Cliven Bundy, refused.
AMMON BUNDY: My dad said no. And when they come and said they’re going to take it anyway, he said, “Hell no! You’re not going to take away what my grandfathers passed down to me.” He said no.
STEVE ELLIS, BLM, 2013-16: The issue with the Bundy family started more than 20 years ago.
NARRATOR: Steve Ellis was a deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management, the BLM, which grants permits to ranchers to graze their cattle on public land.
STEVE ELLIS: The U.S. government is a huge landlord in the West. Inherently, there’s going to be conflicts and challenges for us in making decisions. BLM was making a change in Mr. Bundy’s permit, and Mr. Bundy rejected that and stopped paying his grazing fees, and that started the whole thing.
LEISL CARR CHILDERS, Historian, Univ. of Northern Iowa: The BLM was threatening to decrease his cattle operation to the point where there’d be nothing left. But ranchers can’t just stop paying their grazing fees. Even as a form of protest, it’s difficult to make the case that if you stop paying, you can still continue operating. So the only action the BLM can take at that point is to impound Bundy’s cattle.
NARRATOR: The Bundys declared a range war, and the BLM finally sent in armed agents to oversee the removal of the cattle.
NEWSCASTER: Rangers and agents from several federal agencies are preparing to move against rancher Cliven Bundy─
AMMON BUNDY: The Bureau of Land Management came in, began to build their compound. It was built like a military base. And I’m, you know, saying, “Dad, I really want to be able to do something if you need me to do it.”
NARRATOR: As the BLM was impounding hundreds of the Bundys’ cattle, Ammon’s brother David began filming government convoys.
RADIO: Tell Bobby to go ahead and make contact
OFFICER: Hey, sir?
NARRATOR: When agents ordered him to stop, he refused, as his older brother Ryan tried to intervene.
RYAN BUNDY: I am going to take him with me.
OFFICER: OK, he’s a grown man. He can take himself, OK, sir? This is your first choice sir, to leave─ to leave. I’m going to─ I’m going to drag you out of the car, OK, here in a second. Sir? Sir, leave now.
AMMON BUNDY: Several men came down, threw him to the ground. And then they detained him and took him to the compound.
OFFICER: 1608, turning camera off. Bundy’s left the area.
AMMON BUNDY: It was that night that my dad said, “Well, I guess time for you to come.”
When I dropped down into the valley, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I pull into the protest site, and there’s, like, 40 or 50 people there. It was quite amazing to see the people unite.
NARRATOR: As he arrived in Bunkerville, he found that ranchers from across the state had rallied to his father’s defense.
1st RANCHER: This Bundy family, no more than just a good ranch family. There’s a good example of what they’ve tried to do them right here, on this deal right here. Only the people have finally had enough.
2nd RANCHER: For the last 20 years, they’ve been after the good guys.
LEISL CARR CHILDERS: Ranchers have been frustrated with the federal government for a very long time. They severely cut back the amount of time cattle can be on public lands. Ranchers are always having to look over their shoulder and wonder, “When is my ranch no longer going to be viable?” The Bundys are among the last ranchers in Clark County.
PROTESTERS: No BLM! No BLM!
NARRATOR: As the crowds grew, protesters confronted government agents.
AMMON BUNDY: They body slammed my Aunt Margaret to the ground. And they tased me. That was all caught on video. And then that video went viral, and that’s when more people started coming,
STEVE ELLIS, Dep. Dir., Operations, BLM, 2013-16: I was very worried about the optics of it. I thought, “Wow, this is not good. And the optics of this is going to be horrible.”
NEWSCASTER: This skirmish quickly turned into an angry mob, and protesters were hurt.
AMMON BUNDY: And they tased me again, probably because I didn’t drop on the ground.
STEVE ELLIS: We always knew the potential that they would not cooperate, but we did not anticipate those large numbers of people coming in.
LEISL CARR CHILDERS: In the past, we saw similar activities and protests. But what’s different about 2014 and Bunkerville is that a bunch of people show up to support Cliven Bundy who are not ranchers at all.
NARRATOR: Cliven was contacted by a militia group from Montana, who asked to come to the ranch. And on Facebook, his wife, Carol, called for militias from across the country to come and support them. That caught the attention of Ryan Lenz at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
RYAN LENZ: We track anti-government groups and extremist groups. We focus on both racial extremism and anti-government extremism, both of which have been growing quite immensely in recent years. This image of Ammon Bundy tasered became sort of this rallying cry for anti-government extremists everywhere.
BRANDON RAPOLLA, Militia Leader: I don’t have to explain myself because this is America and I want all─
The first time I heard about Bundy ranch was when the YouTube video came out with the Bundys getting tased and the aunt getting tossed by the federal agent.
NARRATOR: Brandon Rapolla, a Marine veteran, runs a small militia in Oregon.
BRANDON RAPOLLA: To come in as a militarized force against your citizen like this, that’s when we the people, we say no, this is not what the Constitution stands for. And we have to remind our federal government that we are the power.
NEWSCASTER: People are coming in from out of state now to hold off the federal rangers, and many are armed.
NEWSCASTER: We’re bringing out the latest from the Bundy ranch where the militia has arrived in support of Cliven Bundy.
BRANDON RAPOLLA: Within less than a 24-hour period, I got my gear ready and made an 18-hour straight drive down there. And you had people from all over the country. And a lot of the people that I met were prior military, or still active military, and special forces in different branches. Everybody had a purpose or a reason to come, but it was all based on the fact that they know somebody’s being abused and something’s not right.
NARRATOR: Militias from around the country descended on Bunkerville.
RYAN LENZ, Southern Poverty Law Center: The Oath Keepers, which is this group of former military and police personnel, the 3 Percenters who believe that they are prepared to fight the federal government much like our─ like the colonists were against the British. And so Bunkerville becomes this sort of petri dish of anti-government extremist thought.
NARRATOR: The Bureau of Land Management watched with increasing alarm as the situation escalated.
STEVE ELLIS: We’re surrounded by people with guns, these hundreds of militia people coming in ─ many of them are heavily armed ─ from around the country.
NARRATOR: On April 12th, the BLM said they would stop rounding up more cattle. But that wasn’t enough for Cliven. He wanted all his cows back.
CLIVEN BUNDY: Good morning, citizens of Clark County, Nevada! Good morning America! _[cheers and applause]I
RYAN LENZ: Cliven basically says, “We’re about to take this country back. And let’s go get my cattle.”
CLIVEN BUNDY: We’re going to go and take the rest of them out of the compound corrals here above the freeway─
RYAN LENZ: And boom, they’re off!
NARRATOR: The Bunkerville protest was becoming an uprising.
AMMON BUNDY: We’re taking back our country. That’s basically what’s going to happen. Then we’re going to take back our state.
NARRATOR: Ammon and hundreds of protesters headed for the lot where the government had impounded the family’s cattle.
RADIO: All units be advised, new info coming in, Cliven advocating they rip down the fence and get the cows back.
AGENT: Are you [expletive] people stupid or what?
NARRATOR: We obtained video taken by law enforcement that day.
AGENT: I’m missing that one guy on the bridge.
NARRATOR: Some of it has never been shown before.
RYAN LENZ: They were all heading to this wash where the main entrance was to the pen where the BLM held his cattle.
RADIO: Control RC, control RC. I need reinforcements down into the wash.
NARRATOR: As the protesters converged on the cattle pen, law enforcement officers from a half dozen agencies scrambled to hold them off.
1st AGENT: Where do you want to set up the triage area?
2nd AGENT: Behind the vehicles right here.
1st AGENT: OK, I’ll spread the word.
3rd AGENT: If they come with horses, you’re going to have to─ probably going to want to get back in the truck because they’ll [expletive] run you over.
4thAGENT: If they break this, we’re not going to be able to stop horses.
3rd AGENT: No, that’s what I’m saying─
AMMON BUNDY: Once we were down there, they were in stacking position with their rifles up,
1st AGENT: You’re my lethal? I want you guys to be ready for a second wave, OK? When I call in a second wave, come in.
AMMON BUNDY: We’re afraid because they’re telling us that if we don’t disperse that they’re going to open fire, and that’s what we believed that they would do.
NARRATOR: But the militias were in position, too.
BRANDON RAPOLLA: Anybody who went there was prepared for the federal government to take lethal action.
1st AGENT: Long guns right in front of us.
2nd AGENT: I’ve got two more over here that are knelt down. There’s at least 10 or 12 long guns.
STEVE ELLIS: I was thinking of how serious the situation had become. We had a very volatile situation right then.
1st AGENT: Northbound lane has rifles with scopes.
2nd AGENT: Which one?
1st AGENT: Northbound, the furthest bridge.
RYAN LENZ: The government had snipers, and the militia put in place counter-snipers. It was a level of tension and borderline violence. I was convinced it was going to go south. It was that close.
1st AGENT: I’ve lost count how many long guns. We get many more down here, we’re going to be outgunned.
BRANDON RAPOLLA: The SWAT teams knew these guys were out there. They’ll defend and they will whip your ass. We will die.
PROTESTER: Bundy! Bundy, come here!
NARRATOR: At the head of the crowd, Ammon Bundy confronted BLM agent Dan Love, demanding he release the family’s cattle.
AMMON BUNDY: You guys need to leave. You need to leave.
AGENT DAN LOVE: I’m telling you, you need to de-escalate the situation. I’m imploring upon you your responsibility to de-escalate the situation.
AMMON BUNDY: We’re staying here until they’re gone. That’s what we’re doing.
PROTESTER: BLM go home!
STEVE ELLIS: What was going through my mind is, it’s not worth it to have anybody hurt over 400 cows that they had impounded at that point. So I told them to pull out. You know, pull out now.
NARRATOR: The Bundys and their militia supporters had led an armed standoff in defiance of court orders, and no one was arrested. They even got their cows back.
AMMON BUNDY: The Bureau of Land Management was trying to root my dad out of─ off his ranch for 30 years now. For it to unfold the way it did was absolutely a miracle to us, and amazing.
STEVE ELLIS: They can gloat all they want, but everyone went home safe. And I also knew that, eventually, the wheels of justice would start turning, that that was not the end of it.
NARRATOR: The Federal government had backed down. But it would spend the next two years trying to bring the Bundys to justice.
Overnight, the Bundys were thrust into the national spotlight.
SEAN HANNITY, Fox News: Welcome to “Hannity.” And this is a Fox News alert. The federal government may have surrendered in the battle against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy─
NARRATOR: The discussion was as divided as the country itself.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: ─a law-breaking rancher named Cliven Bundy, and it has literally put the Bureau of Land Management in the crosshairs of sniper rifles!
SEAN HANNITY: Frankly, I thought there was a lack of proportionality here by the government, and snipers and surrounding your ranch and taking your cattle─ none of it made any sense, and I think─
Prof. JOSEPH E. TAYLOR III, Historian, Simon Fraser University: When the standoff at Bunkerville happens, it is very much a local battle and a local relationship with the BLM. But because of the coverage it draws from the media, there are other people who will appropriate Bundy and his cause and make it their own because it seems to support their larger message of an out of control, tyrannical federal government.
SEAN HANNITY: I’m worried about the lies that are told to us about the IRS, about what happened in Benghazi, and the lies that sold health care. I’m concerned that the government is overreaching here─
LEISL CARR CHILDERS: I don’t think in any way Cliven Bundy wanted to be the poster child for Sean Hannity or the far right. I don’t think he was particularly interested in any given political movement,
NARRATOR: The Bundys wanted to use their new platform to talk about what mattered to them, their belief that public land should be managed locally, not by the federal government.
AMMON BUNDY: The fact is, the federal government have overstepped their bounds and taken─
NARRATOR: But within days, an interview with Cliven making racist comments went viral.
CLIVEN BUNDY: I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?
NEWSCASTER: Cliven Bundy, it turns out, is a racist.
NARRATOR: The backlash was immediate.
NEWSCASTER: Conservatives stampeded away from Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
SEAN HANNITY: I believe those comments are downright racist. They are repugnant. They are bigoted. And it’s beyond disturbing.
NARRATOR: From then on, Ammon would be the voice of the Bundy family.
AMMON BUNDY: The people have the power. When we unite, we have the power. [cheers and applause]
JOSEPH TAYLOR: Ammon is smarter at not sticking his foot in his mouth. Cliven stays on the ranch, but Ammon is slowly building up a larger network of supporters through the internet and other places.
AMMON BUNDY: Who has heard the story of what happened at the ranch?
JOSEPH TAYLOR: He is beginning to export the protest across the interior West.
NARRATOR: With word spreading on social media, Ammon was in demand as a speaker.
AMMON BUNDY: So I began to pray, and I prayed longer than I’d ever prayed in my life.
NARRATOR: He and his family are devout Mormons, and Ammon spread his family’s message with the zeal of a missionary. He argued that under the Constitution, the federal government has no right to restrict ranchers’ use of public land, even if they don’t own it.
AMMON BUNDY: If we didn’t have the Constitution, we wouldn’t have the federal government.
NARRATOR: He was becoming the leader in the so-called Patriot movement.
AMMON BUNDY: If people want to call me a leader, that’s fine, but I’m doing what every person should do, and it’s that simple.
NARRATOR: In his travels, Ammon learned of a family in eastern Oregon whose battles with the federal government reminded him of his own.
DWIGHT HAMMOND: Two thirds of the way up on that mountain where you see the snow, that’s where our cattle are at.
NARRATOR: Like the Bundys, the Hammonds were ranchers who repeatedly clashed with federal officers over the use of public lands. Twenty years earlier, their fight with the government received national attention.
NEWSCASTER: Hammond has become a virtual martyr to many in the land rights movement.
NARRATOR: In 2012, the Hammonds were prosecuted for setting fires that destroyed federal land and endangered people’s lives. They claimed the fires were to maintain their grazing land and had simply spread out of control, but they faced a mandatory minimum of five years.
BILL WILLIAMS, U.S. Attorney, Oregon: The Hammonds are long-time ranchers in eastern Oregon that had been charged with arson. Their case went to trial in Pendelton, Oregon, and it resulted in convictions.
NARRATOR: The jury found them guilty, but the judge reduced their sentences─ three months for Dwight, one year for his son Steven. But that didn’t satisfy the prosecutors.
BILL WILLIAMS: The law wasn’t followed, so that matter was appealed and they were sentenced to the five-year mandatory minimum.
NEWSCASTER: Two Oregon ranchers must go back to prison for starting fires that burned on federal land.
NARRATOR: When Ammon Bundy heard the Hammonds were going back to prison, he was outraged.
AMMON BUNDY: We hear about the Hammonds. This urge just filled my whole body. I felt a divine drive, an urge that said you have to get involved.
NARRATOR: So in the fall of 2015, Ammon went to Burns, Oregon, a place, like the rest of Harney County, that had fallen on hard times. Chris Briels used to be the fire chief here.
CHRIS BRIELS, Former Fire Chief, Burns, OR: I moved here in 1978. Burns was kind of cool. It was the place I wanted to be because it was away from the big city and all the extraneous crazy stuff that goes on in the rest of the world. And so it was a safe and wonderful place to raise my kids, I thought. The economy was booming. There were a lot of people working in the mill. There were a lot of loggers, a lot of truckers hauling logs. Ranchers were doing well. It was a nice place to be.
But now it’s just a graveyard of industry, and it’s definitely not the same. But I love this area.
AMMON BUNDY: My name is Ammon Bundy. I don’t live in Oregon─
CHRIS BRIELS: The first time that Ammon came to Harney County, I heard on Facebook, because we don’t have a radio station here.
AMMON BUNDY: If we were abiding by the Constitution, the Hammonds would never be in the position they’re in. If we’re abiding by the Constitution, these ranchers would be able to ranch without being in fear. If we were abiding by the Constitution─
CHRIS BRIELS: I’ve always been involved with the community. And I thought, I’m going to go out and I’m going to find out what kind of weirdos we got in our back yard now, you know? And then Ammon got up and started talking.
AMMON BUNDY: The Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds, OK? And I apologize for being emotional. I hope you guys can get past that.
CHRIS BRIELS: And I listened and I was just kind of transfixed. It’s, like, “Wow, this guy is sincere.” You know, he had found out about the Hammonds and he had some real concerns. Well, I’ll be danged! This is a real cowboy.
NARRATOR: Ammon took to social media, trying to bring attention to the Hammonds’ situation.
AMMON BUNDY: [YouTube video] What has happened to the Hammonds will happen to more and more people. And it is that simple. And so I am asking you to come to Harney County. We are to stand now and that we are to do these things now, or we will not have anything to pass on to our children.
NARRATOR: Ammon’s call to action was heard by many of the same militia members who had supported his family at the Bundy ranch.
BRANDON RAPOLLA, Co-founder, Pacific Patriots Network: When I found out Ammon Bundy had contact with the Hammonds, I contacted Ammon and said, “Hey, I would like to help.”
NARRATOR: After the Bunkerville standoff, militias around the country had been energized, and Brandon Rapolla formed an alliance with other groups in the Northwest. They called themselves the Pacific Patriots Network.
JOSEPH RICE, Co-founder, Pacific Patriots Network: OK, so two mags of five─
NARRATOR: Joseph Rice leads a PPN chapter in Oregon’s Rogue Valley.
JOSEPH RICE: Ammon Bundy has drawn attention to the abuses by the three-letter agencies and the management of our natural resources. It’s started a discussion. It’s why you guys are sitting here.
Five rounds in place, transition to pistol, two rounds.
B.J. SOPER, Co-founder, Pacific Patriots Network: I don’t know any other way to describe what happened to the Hammond family, other than I don’t understand what country we live in when it comes to that.
JOSEPH RICE: When ready, may commence. Fire!
B.J. SOPER: There was a need for people to be defended.
JOSEPH RICE: Cease fire! Cease fire!
NARRATOR: Two days before the Hammonds returned to jail, Ammon Bundy and the Pacific Patriots Network organized a rally in downtown Burns.
GREG BRETZING, FBI Special Agent in Charge, 2014-16: On January 2nd, the Bundys and his followers had organized a rally in support of the Hammond family.
WOMAN: Where’s Idaho? [protesters cheer] Where’s Oregon? [protesters cheer]
GREG BRETZING: Several hundred people showed up at the rally.
B.J. SOPER: We’re going to continue down this road to the corner where the Hammonds live. Everybody ready to do this?
GREG BRETZING: And they marched through the streets of Burns.
PROTESTERS: [singing] I once was lost, but now I’m found─
NARRATOR: The marchers stopped in front of the Hammonds’ home.
PROTESTERS: [singing] – but now I see ─
DWIGHT HAMMOND: This is the most humbling experience that anybody could have.
PROTESTER: Amen! [cheers]
NARRATOR: The march was supposed to end in the Safeway parking lot, but Ammon had decided to take things further.
AMMON BUNDY: After we rallied there in Burns, what were we supposed to do, just go home, just say, “OK, look, you know, the Hammond family will go to prison for five years.” You know, what are the people, just to go home? We had to stand for them.
Those who are ready to actually do something about it, I’m asking you to follow me and go to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. And we’re going to make a hard stand. Follow me! It’s about 40 miles!
NARRATOR: Ammon and a small group of armed followers raced out to Malheur, taking their fight to government-owned land adjacent to the Hammonds’ ranch.
RYAN LENZ, Southern Poverty Law Center: No one anticipated the Malheur occupation. Nobody really was expecting it. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew how it would end. And really, nobody knew how far the Bundys would go.
NEWSCASTER: A really bizarre anti-government protest is playing out on a remote wildlife refuge.
NEWSCASTER: ─anti-government protesters who’ve taken over a group of federal buildings. Police are keeping their distance for now, hoping to ride this thing out─
AMMON BUNDY: Many of you have asked us for what is our name. And that would be Citizens for Constitutional Freedom. Our purpose is to restore and defend the Constitution.
GREG BRETZING: They had armed guards at the gates. They had armed patrols that roamed the perimeter of the facility. They’d moved heavy equipment to block the roads. They clearly intended to stay and to defend their position.
NARRATOR: But most of Ammon’s militia allies had stayed behind in Burns. For them, taking the refuge was a step too far.
MILITIA MEMBER: Oregon 3 Percent is not going. The Pacific Patriots Network is not going. We have respect for the Patriots, people that want to go out there and do that. As far as Oregon and Idaho is concerned, that’s not what we’re here to do.
BRANDON RAPOLLA: Us and PPN and Oregon 3 Percent and other patriot groups and leadership said, “No, that’s not what we’re here for.”
MILITIA MEMBER: I had no idea, I had no intention that something this drastic would come from this.
B.J. SOPER: The Burns incident absolutely separated the Patriot movement. What happened in Malheur felt offensive. It felt like you’re taking the fight to them, rather than defending somebody else.
NARRATOR: Ammon was left with a core group of supporters. Many of them had been at the standoff in Bunkerville.
GREG BRETZING: Over the first initial days of the occupation, we were able to identify a core group of leadership who were active in recruiting people to come to the refuge and communicating with the press.
NARRATOR: One of Ammon’s closest allies at Malheur was an old family friend.
LAVOY FINICUM: LaVoy Finicum. I’m a rancher in northern Arizona.
GREG BRETZING: We were aware of who LaVoy Finnicum was. Like Ammon Bundy, he was a part of that leadership group.
NARRATOR: And like Ammon, he had a following on social media.
LAVOY FINICUM: [web video] Hello, everyone. This is LaVoy Finicum, One Cowboy’s Stand For Freedom.
BLM, here I am. You want to pick on somebody, come pick on me.
NARRATOR: The occupiers braced themselves for a showdown, but the FBI raid never came.
GREG BRETZING: When dealing with a situation like this, tactical patience is as important as a good strategic plan. We had seen what had happened a year-and-a-half or so before, and the tension and escalation that occurred at that point.
NARRATOR: So the FBI held back and waited. The occupiers traveled regularly between the refuge and the town, and the authorities made no effort to arrest them.
GREG BRETZING: It wasn’t easy. It goes counter to any law enforcement officer that you’ll ever meet to stand by and watch someone break the law, clearly break the law, and be out touting the fact that they’re breaking the law and not do anything about it.
AMMON BUNDY: That’s exactly why we had guns there. If we had them, they would respect us and allow us to speak.
These lands, they need to be returned back to the people.
And if we didn’t, then they would do what they’ve done to protesters all across this nation. They would have tased us. They would have sprayed us with mace. They would have put zip ties on us and hauled us off in paddy wagons.
NARRATOR: The standoff dragged on for days, and then weeks, as the occupiers issued demands. Some of them posted video of the negotiations with the FBI.
AMMON BUNDY: [phone call with FBI negotiator] Well, maybe first you could come out look at us in the eye first, and you could give us your real first name and your real last name and you could be a true representative of the people, and that would start. That would be a great start.
GREG BRETZING: Their demands were that the FBI leave Harney County and that the control of not just the refuge but all federal lands in Harney County be returned back to the citizens of the county and/or the state. Those are not demands that we could meet, nor are they in agreement in any way shape or form with the interpretation of the Constitution as has been determined by the Supreme Court over many many years.
NARRATOR: The FBI had set up a command post in a school, and the airport became a staging area for tactical teams and equipment.
BRANDON RAPOLLA: The sheriff, state police and federal government all of a sudden escalated their force. Then we realized, “Holy crap. We need to make sure that nothing bad was going to happen to Ammon.”
NARRATOR: The Pacific Patriots Network decided to come out to the refuge.
MILITIA MEMBER: Back up! You guys won’t be allowed to come anywhere closer.
NARRATOR: They said they still opposed the occupation and were only there to prevent an attack by the FBI.
JOSEPH RICE: As we have seen with federal operations in the past, we don’t want to see a Waco situation occur here at all.
GREG BRETZING.: They were always armed, and they viewed themselves as a buffer between those who were on the refuge and law enforcement. I asked, “What do you mean by being a buffer?” And I never got a great answer.
TOWNSMAN: Mr. Bundy, to be very clear. It’s time for you to go home! [cheers]
TOWNSPEOPLE: Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!
NARRATOR: In town, the residents were turning against the Bundys.
CHRIS BRIELS, Former fire chief, Burns, OR: How was Harney County impacted? It’s like there was a big earthquake through the population. It shattered us. You know, it fragmented people. You know, there were─ and there were families that were arguing over things, you know, and friends that weren’t friends anymore. And people are in fear.
TOWNSMAN: You people get the hell out of here! You don’t own a [expletive] damn nut bolt or nothing else here.
NARRATOR: Almost a month into the occupation, LaVoy Finicum told reporters that he sensed the FBI’s mood shifting.
LAVOY FINICUM: The tenor has changed and they have become more hardened. And when they step out of their vehicles, now they’re stepping out with their rifles. They do not intend on losing here. And we do not intend giving it back to them.
NARRATOR: The next day, the FBI saw an opportunity to end it.
GREG BRETZING, FBI Special Agent in Charge, 2014-16: On January 26th, the FBI had developed information that a significant number of the leadership of the occupation was going to be traveling from the refuge to a meeting in John Day, Oregon. We knew the route they were going to take. We knew the cars they were going to be in.
NARRATOR: Two cars left the refuge bound for John Day County, 90 miles away. An FBI surveillance plane followed overhead. Ammon rode in the second car. His brother Ryan, LaVoy Finicum and a militia leader were in the first. At the last minute, they were joined by two women, including Shawna Cox.
SHAWNA COX: I wasn’t supposed to be in that vehicle at all. I thought, “We’re going to a meeting, we’ll be there for a couple of hours, and we’ll be back.”
GREG BRETZING: Couldn’t let the occupation go on forever. So the intent of this operation was to get them as far away from any populated area as possible.
NARRATOR: Thirty miles down a twisting mountain road, the vehicles entered an area outside of cell phone reception. The FBI, backed by state police, made their move. Officers pulled the cars over. Ammon Bundy was finally arrested. But in the lead vehicle, LaVoy refused to get out.
LAVOY FINICUM: I’m not turning off the vehicle! This is LaVoy Finicum. You want to shoot me, you shoot me! But I’m not going anywhere.
SHAWNA COX: They had unmarked vehicles. We don’t know who these people are. And we didn’t want to get out of the vehicle. And that’s why I pulled up the camera. I was in defense mode, and our best weapon is our cameras.
RYAN BUNDY: Who are you?
PROTESTER: Yeah, who are you?
RYAN BUNDY: Who are you?
OFFICER: Oregon State Police.
SHAWNA COX: Oregon State Police.
LAVOY ON FINICUM: OK. Well, I’m going over to meet the sheriff in Grant County. You can come along with us and you can talk with us over there.
OFFICER: No. You’re going to turn off your vehicle─
LAVOY FINICUM: You can go ahead and shoot me. Put the laser right there. Put the bullet through the head!
SHAWNA COX: I can see the laser on top of LaVoy’s hat. We were absolutely afraid for our life.
LAVOY FINICUM: You want my blood on your hands? Get it done because we’ve got people to see and places to go.
OFFICER: Right now, you need to do what you’re told.
LAVOY FINICUM: No, I don’t! You need to back off. You need to back off.
SHAWNA COX: Well, if we duck and you drive, what are they going to do, try and knock us down? How much further we got to go?
LAVOY FINICUM: We got about 50-odd miles. I’m going to go. You guys ready?
SHAWNA COX: Then you duck down. Go. Keep going.
MAN IN CAR: What about Ammon and those guys?
LAVOY FINICUM: We can’t get around him. I’m going to go get help.
MAN IN CAR: Coming up fast!
SHAWNA COX: Yeah, they are.
LAVOY FINICUM: Hang on! Hang on!
SHAWNA COX: They’re shooting
LAVOY FINICUM: Go ahead and shoot me!
GREG BRETZING: LaVoy Finicum immediately pops out of the car. Law enforcement engage him, and over a period of several seconds, give him commands to keep his hands up, stop reaching. Stop reaching. But he reached several times in his jacket and was shot by law enforcement.
SHAWNA COX: Are they shooting him? Did they shoot him? You [expletive]!
WOMAN IN CAR: Oh, my God!
SHAWNA COX: Stay down. Stay down! [gunshot] Oh! Please, please protect us all! Please protect us. Please protect us. Please protect us. We need help. We need help. We need help.
WOMAN IN CAR: Did they kill him?
CLERGYMAN: Our most kind and gracious Father who art in heaven, we come before thee in honor and remembrance of our beloved friend, your son, LaVoy Finicum, and we thank thee, O Father, for his selfless sacrifice─
NARRATOR: The killing of LaVoy Finicum made him a martyr to his followers─
CLERGYMAN: He has become a beacon of light─
NARRATOR: But it was the beginning of the end of the Malheur occupation. Ammon and his supporters were now in custody, charged with felonies. He and 13 others would stand trial in Portland.
DORY DAE: We’re not going anywhere, and we will continue to take our stand! Governor Kate Brown is responsible for the murder of LaVoy Finicum, the murder of a cowboy─
NARRATOR: Dory Dae joined the Patriot movement after LaVoy Finicum’s death and Ammon’s arrest. She led daily protests outside of the jail where Ammon and his co-defendants were being held for trial.
DORY DAE: I’m out here protesting today and every day against the federal government on behalf of our American patriots.
NARRATOR: Federal prosecutors had imposed the most severe charge they could, conspiracy to impede federal employees.
ETHAN KNIGHT, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Oregon: There were not a lot of options in the federal criminal code for really addressing the conduct. There was no blueprint for what to do when people take over a wildlife refuge.
One could reasonably conclude that part of the reason that these folks were there was to keep Fish and Wildlife employees from doing their jobs, and it simply was not normal to have thousands of rounds of ammunition on a wildlife refuge in a workspace.
NARRATOR: The prosecution entered over a thousand exhibits into evidence from wiretaps, electronic surveillance and informants. Their case seemed overwhelming.
MAXINE BERNSTEIN, Reporter, The Oregonian: It was unlike any case I’ve ever covered.
AMMON BUNDY: Many of you have asked us for, what is our name.
MAXINE BERNSTEIN: You had an armed occupation of federal property that was broadcast. It was documented on the defendant’s own Facebook pages.
AMMON BUNDY: [Facebook video] It is a time to stand up and come to Harney County.
MAXINE BERNSTEIN: A lot of people thought this was going to be a slam dunk conviction.
NARRATOR: Ammon’s attorney, Marcus Mumford, came up with a strategy to turn the conspiracy case on its head. While the prosecution tried to focus on the criminal charges, Mumford was making a political case.
MARCUS MUMFORD, Attorney for Ammon Bundy: From very early on in the case, it was clear we needed to show they were protesting and they were not conspiring. The government’s evidence─ it was all about the ammunition. It was all about guns.
BILL WILLIAMS, U.S. Attorney, Oregon: The notion that you have this right, or it makes you more patriotic if you’re willing to storm into a facility with your guns─ that isn’t how it’s done in this country.
NARRATOR: This video, the only one of the occupiers firing weapons at the refuge, was a key piece of evidence for the prosecution. But in the closing days of the trial, it was revealed that an FBI informant had overseen the shooting exercise.
MARCUS MUMFORD: It was one of the turning points in the trial when we brought up this issue of government informants. There had been a government informant who, it appears, was specifically recruited and instructed to go to the refuge in order to get video of these guys doing violent things.
NARRATOR: The FBI agent who led the investigation defended the use of informants in the case.
GREG BRETZING, FBI Special Agent in Charge, 2014-16: There are strict guidelines. Law enforcement is not allowed nor would they ever send an informant to instigate any criminal activity. One of the things that I think needs to be crystal clear in any event like this is that law enforcement is going to use any tool in their toolbox that they can to bring a situation like this to a peaceful conclusion.
MARCUS MUMFORD: The case itself from the government side was one thing. Of course, our presentation of the case was this is government overreach, and the trial itself became an example of it.
DORY DAE: Ammon Bundy! Ryan Bundy!
NARRATOR: As the seven-week trial came to an end, protesters continued their vigils outside the jail.
DORY DAE: Free our political prisoners! Free the Patriots!
NARRATOR: Then in late October, a verdict that shocked the city.
NEWSCASTER: It was a pretty jaw-dropping verdict. Everyone has been acquitted.
NEWSCASTER: Seven former Malheur Refuge occupiers have been found not guilty.
AMMON BUNDY: The jury foreman─ he looked at me and I looked at him, gave him a nod. And that was the best I could do at that point for saying thank you.
NARRATOR: The jurors hadn’t been convinced the occupation was the conspiracy the government laid out.
ETHAN KNIGHT, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Oregon: When we received the verdict, it was surprising. In the almost two decades that I’ve been handling criminal cases as a prosecutor, it has gotten more difficult with federal law enforcement like FBI agents because there seems to be, from our vantage point, more distrust of those institutions.
RYAN LENZ, Southern Poverty Law Center: The problem with the acquittals is that it seems the Bundys won twice. What it said was that you can go in, terrorize the community around you and walk away scot-free.
NARRATOR: But Ammon’s victory would be short-lived. Federal prosecutors in Nevada had finally filed their own charges against him and his family for the Bunkerville standoff. And as the verdict was read, marshals were there to take him back to face charges.
Marcus Mumford started to protest.
MARCUS MUMFORD: So I’m arguing with the marshals, and we’re having this conversation about, “Well, if you have the order, show it to me. If not, he should be free to go.” And at that point, a marshal came up and just grabbed me. All of them surrounded me at the same time, put their hands on my and just, you know, started to pull my hands behind my back. And they put down on the floor. I was on my belly. They tased me. The put the stun gun on me and they hit me with it.
NARRATOR: Mumford was arrested for creating a disturbance in the court. The charges were later dropped, and Ammon would be transferred to a prison in Nevada.
It turned out the FBI had been trying to build its case against Ammon and his family ever since the standoff in 2014. Shortly after the standoff had ended, the FBI infiltrated the family ranch.
YOUNG WOMAN: Hello. The Bundys.
CHARLES JOHNSON: Oh, yes. Can I speak with Cliven Bundy, please?
YOUNG WOMAN: May I ask who’s calling?
CHARLES JOHNSON: This is Charles Johnson with Longbow Productions.
YOUNG WOMAN: OK, just a second.
NARRATOR: They posed as a documentary film company, Longbow Productions, and filmed over several months. The footage has not been broadcast before, and we’ve concealed the undercover agents’ identities and voices.
AMMON BUNDY: This is Ammon Bundy. How are you doing?
CHARLES JOHNSON: Pretty good. How are you?
AMMON BUNDY: I don’t know if you could tell, there’s a little level of─ you know, uncomfortable, and just wanted to make sure that we’re all on the same page.
CHARLES JOHNSON: Oh, absolutely.
AMMON BUNDY: So we looked you up online, and we found just a pretty simple Web site.
CHARLES JOHNSON: I just don’t keep a lot of stuff on there because it’s not my product anymore And that’s why I’m investing my money here is because I don’t want it to go to the wrong hands.
AMMON BUNDY: I think I’ve─ I’ve got what I want. I feel a lot more comfortable about it.
CHARLES JOHNSON: Hey, I’m looking forward to actually sitting down with you.
CHARLES JOHNSON: All right.
Quiet on set. And roll camera.
Did you think you might have to take a life?
AMMON BUNDY: I never did once think I’d have to take a life. I was never armed and─
NARRATOR: In the interviews, they wanted to know who planned the standoff and who was in charge.
CHARLES JOHNSON: How would you put yourself in the family rank structure? Because it seems to me that you’re very influential to your family.
AMMON BUNDY: So at the circumstance, or just in general?
CHARLES JOHNSON: Well, with the circumstance, like we know─
AMMON BUNDY: My dad was really skeptical. You know, he really was. And I end up basically talking my family into it. And so you know, they went to our home.
MRS. BUNDY: Can you hear me now? Testing, testing. That’s alright?
AMMON BUNDY: I think about that. The whole time my mom’s in there cooking for them and they’re plotting to destroy our family.
NARRATOR: The FBI also used its access to the Bundy family to convince militia members to talk. One of them was Greg Burleson, who had been at the standoff.
CHARLES JOHNSON: Want something to drink, cold beer, a mixed drink? What would you prefer?
GREG BURLESON: I’ll try a beer.
CHARLES JOHNSON: You had a rough day. If you need to use the bathroom, if you need a refill on your drink, if you need to move around, we’ll do it, but just finish the thought. Don’t be moving and talking at the same time because then we lose focus real quick.
GREG BURLESON: Right. Well, on that note, I’d like another shot. [laughter]
CHARLES JOHNSON: What would the response have been had the federal government come back then?
GREG BURLESON: Dead bodies. Literally.
CHARLES JOHNSON: So just engage them as soon as─
GREG BURLESON: When─ once we set up a perimeter, anything that comes into the perimeter, it doesn’t matter if we’re up in the Bundy ranch or if we’re out in the southern deserts, if it comes into our perimeter, if it’s not a friendly, it dies.
NARRATOR: The FBI declined to comment on the operation. But federal prosecutors used some of the footage to help convict Burleson of eight charges, including threatening and assaulting a federal officer. He was sentenced to 68 years in prison.
CHARLES JOHNSON: So I have to know. Have you ever killed anybody?
GREG BURLESON: I can’t tell you that.
CHARLES JOHNSON: You’re not on camera!
GREG BURLESON: I can’t tell you that.
AMMON BUNDY: If we don’t stand now, we will never get our lands back.
NARRATOR: The footage is also part of the case against the Bundy family.
RYAN BUNDY: Is this an interview in a documentary, or is this an interrogation?
NARRATOR: As the Bundys awaited trial, once again, protesters gathered, this time outside the gates of the private prison in Nevada where they were being held.
PROTESTER: Truth is out and now we know, let the political prisoners go!
PROTESTERS: Let the political prisoners go!
PROTESTER: Today, it’s the Bundys. Tomorrow, it’s you!
PROTESTERS: Today, it’s the Bundys. Tomorrow, it’s you!
NARRATOR: The Bundys had galvanized the so-called patriot movement and channeled anti-government sentiment that continues.
PROTESTER: Just as you granted a big miracle for us in Portland, we know that you have miracles for us here. Amen.
NARRATOR: Now, if convicted, the Bundys face decades behind bars.
AMMON BUNDY: Yeah, my dad is 70 years old. It’s a death sentence to him. You know, my brothers─ it’s all of us. All of us will be dead before they let us go. As much as I hope that we are found not guilty and I get to go home to my family, I don’t think it’ll matter. I believe that what we have done has made a difference and will continue to make a difference.
PROTESTER: When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty!
ETHAN KNIGHT, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Oregon: Whether we agree or disagree even with the Bundys, we all are victims when this is allowed to take place. When there is this kind of breach of the rule of law, we’re all harmed.
NARRATOR: In November 2017, a surprise.
NEWSCASTER: Ammon Bundy is out of jail today
NEWSCASTER: – facing charges stemming from a 2014 armed stand-down
NARRATOR: The judge ordered that the Bundys could be released while their trial was underway.
AMMON BUNDY: We suffered for two years, trying to tell the world that what happened there was not what the government’s been saying happened.
NARRATOR: Weeks later, all the charges against the Bundys were dismissed.