Oregon’s Patriot Movement Today


  • January 2013: Oregon county sheriffs sign Patriot movement-inspired letter to Vice President Biden opposing new gun restrictions after the Sandy Hook massacre
  • 2013: People Against the National Defense Authorization Act (PANDA), in alliance with the Oath Keepers, convinced a number of counties to pass resolutions opposing the National Defense Authorization Act
  • April 2014: Bundy Ranch occupation in Nevada
  • February and May 2015: Oregon rallies against new state gun control law SB 941
  • April 2015: Sugar Pine Mine occupation
  • July 2015: “Protect the Protectors”
  • August 2015: Oregon Patriot movement activists join White Hope Mine occupation in Montana
  • August 2015: Oath Keepers oppose removal of Fielder Dam on private land in Jackson County
  • October 2015: Anti-Obama rally in Roseburg
  • October 2015: “Global Rally for Humanity” shifts theme under pressure from progressives
  • December 2015: Organizing for pro-Hammonds march in Burns
  • January 2016: Armed Patriot movement activists from out-of-state occupy Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters
  • February 2016: Oregon and out-of-state activists rally in support of Malheur occupiers
  • February 2016: Rural Lives Matter rally in Halfway, Oregon supports Malheur occupiers
  • February and April 2016: LaVoy support rallies
  • May 2016: Oregon Patriot movement activists run in GOP primaries
  • June 2016: Oregon Patriot movement activists enter state GOP apparatus

Oregon’s robust Patriot movement provided the groundwork for one of the most visible actions by the movement nationally—the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January 2016 by out-of-state activists. As detailed in this section, the movement is also embedded in the everyday life of some rural counties like Harney in southeastern Oregon, where the Malheur Refuge is located; in Josephine County, the home of Sugar Pine Mine in southwest Oregon, where miners allied with armed Patriot movement activists to oppose the Bureau of Land Management; and in Grant County, also in eastern Oregon, whose constitutional sheriff Glenn Palmer asserted the authority of his office make decisions on public land use. You also will find Patriot movement action in nearby Baker County, as well as in Crook and Deschutes counties in central Oregon.

The movement embraces an “inside/outside” strategy. It can be active in normal civic affairs, contributing emergency infrastructure for instance in Josephine County where austerity has hit hard. And it works within the Republican Party, actively pursuing office in GOP primaries and allying with federal land transfer and gun groups to lobby politicians, some of whom openly support the movement. At the same time, its network of rural paramilitaries attempt to create alternative “dual power” structures that some hope will replace the current government. It sets up  Committees of Safety it claims represent “We the People.” Its fake courts threaten to try public officials, challenging their legitimacy. It makes strange claims about Constitutional law, not least about the supposed power of counties over federal authority. And all this is wrapped up in conspiracy theories and antidemocratic social conservatism.

While Oregon’s Patriot movement goes back to the Posse Comitatus groups of the early 1970s, the latest wave got three big boosts in recent years.

  • Oath Keepers locals appeared immediately after the organization formed in 2009 following President Obama’s election—joining a handful of existing Patriot movement groups in the state.
  • The movement gained more traction after the Sandy Hook mass shooting in Connecticut set off an exaggerated fear that the federal government was going to take away its guns. In January 2013, twelve of Oregon’s sheriffs signed letters organized by the CSPOA to Vice President Joseph Biden, calling for no new gun restrictions. Eventually 21 Oregon county sheriffs (out of 36 counties) would appear on the group’s list of those who shared the CSPOA’s basic values.(1)In January 2013, President Obama had announced a list of twenty-three proposed executive acts to deter gun violence. Adam Serwer, “Obama Announces 23 Executive Actions to Limit Gun Violence: Here’s the List,” Mother Jones, January 16, 2013. www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/01/white-house-guns-action-executive-orders-legislation. By January 2013, 12 Oregon county sheriffs had signed CSPOA-inspired letters opposing these. See Mike Riggs, “90 Sheriffs and Two Sheriffs Associations Have Pledged to Ignore ‘Obama Gun Control’,” Reason, January 23, 2013, http://reason.com/blog/2013/01/23/90-sheriffs-and-two-sheriffs-association. Eventually 21 Oregon sheriffs would appear on the group’s list. See CSPOA, “TOTAL SHERIFFS: 485,” in “Growing List of Sheriffs, Associations and Police Chiefs Saying ‘NO’ to Obama Gun Control,” original post February 1, 2014 (list updated July 6, 2015), CSPOA.ORG, https://web.archive.org/web/20150706092456/http://cspoa.org/sheriffs-gun-rights.
  • The April 2014 standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada set off a new surge in the Patriot movement, and many new Oath Keepers and Three Percenter groups started in Oregon.

The new and established Patriot movement groups soon found causes to rally around in the months before Malheur. They rallied in protest of the state’s SB 941 bill, which would require background checks for private gun sales. Their first event in Salem in February 2015 garnered very little attention but featured Oregon Patriot movement leaders and sympathetic state-level elected officials.(2)The speakers, and their identification, were announced as: Rick Halle (Gun Rights Coalition), Kevin Starret (Oregon Firearms Federation), Duke Lakeland/Chelby Rose (Author), Kari Fassett (Purple), Mary Starret (Yamhill County Commissioner), Mike Nearman (State Rep HD23), Bill Post (State Rep HD25), Kim Thatcher (State Senator), Matt Trattner (Veterans Issues), Manny Martinez, Jeanni Cochran (Victims rights), B.J. Soper, Tom McKirgan (Police Officer, Ret.), Sal Esquivel (State Rep HD06, Tentative), Dennis Linthicum (Tentative), James Buchal (Tentative), and “More TBA.” See Brandi Hawkins, “Speaker List,” Patrick Henry Rally, Facebook event for February 3, 2015, www.facebook.com/events/882773421735610/permalink/932186430127642.

In May 2015, a little more than a couple weeks after SB 941 became law, a more successful rally in Salem attracted a Who’s Who of the Patriot movement and won more attention. Mike Vanderboegh threatened “civil war” as a response to the new law—just as he did when he was at the Bundy Ranch standoff. Other scheduled speakers included national Patriot movement activists Stewart Rhodes, a former aide to ex-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who founded the Oath Keepers, and Gavin Seim, of the Bundy-aligned Coalition of Western States. A number of elected officials were there as well: State Senator Kim Thatcher, Oregon State Representatives Mike Nearman and Tea Party radio host Bill Post, and Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer.(3)SB 941 became law on May 11, 2016. See “2015 session, Senate Bill 941,” OregonLive/Oregonian, http://gov.oregonlive.com/bill/2015/SB941. A number of important Oregon Patriot movement leaders spoke as well. The announced list, and their identification given, is: Kit Lange (Washington LFA III%), Rep Mike Nearman (Oregon House of Representatives), Senator Thatcher (Oregon senate, Tentative), Casey Runyan (President of the Heirs of Patrick Henry NW), Sheriff Glenn Palmer (Testified Against SB 941), Anthony Bosworth (Washington LFA III%), Rep Bill Post (Oregon House of Representatives), Mike Vanderboegh (Inventor of the III%), Kevin Starrett (President of the OFF), Gavin Seim (Liberty Activist and organizer for I-594 i will not comply), Rick Halle, (Gun Rights Coalition, and more!), Jeff Ford (Oregon Coordinator for the Oathkeepers), Jeff Krpof (Petunia the Spending Pig!, tentative), Ian Houston (Youtube: TheHossUSMC), Tom Mckirgan (Oregon III%), Stewart Rhodes (Founder and President of the Oathkeepers). See post by Reuben Eliason on May 26, 2015, on the “SB941 I Will Not Comply Rally,” Facebook event for May 30, 2015, www.facebook.com/events/1570101399924957/permalink/1578871485714615. For Vanderboegh’s speech, see “We Will Not Comply Rally—Salem, Oregon—May 30, 2015,” YouTube video, 1:10:53, posted by “Devin Burghart,” July 3, 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDD7GZJLSkE&feature=youtu.be. His call for “civil war” is around 57:15, and comments on Governor Kate Brown around 1:04:40.

This new law generated fierce opposition and the Patriot movement and its allies won some success at the county level to spurn it. The Lane County Commission refused to fund enforcement of the measure and was supported by their sheriff, Byron M. Trapp, who called the law “unenforceable”—although he said it should be obeyed.(4)Dave Blanchard and Casey Minter, “Lane County Opposes New Gun Background Check Law,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, June 9, 2015, www.opb.org/radio/programs/thinkoutloud/segment/lane-county-commission-opposes-background-check-law. County commissions in Yamhill, Linn, and Douglas also passed resolutions refusing to fund enforcement of the law, and Coos County passed a referendum allowing their county sheriff to ignore it.(5)“In the Board of Commissioners of the State of Oregon for the County of Yamhill Sitting for the Transaction of County Business: In the Matter of a Resolution Supporting Second Amendment Rights, Resolution 15-7-2-1,” Oregon Firearms Federation, www.oregonfirearms.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Yamhill-Second-Amendment-Rights-3.pdf; “Before the Board of County Commissioners for Linn County: In the Matter of Supporting Second Amendment Rights, Resolution No. 2015-218,” Oregon Firearms Federation, www.oregonfirearms.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Linn-County-Resolution.pdf; “Before the Board of Commissioners of Douglas County: In the Matter of Supporting Second Amendment Rights, Resolution,” Oregon Firearms Federation, www.oregonfirearms.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/douglas-county-941resolution.pdf; Devan Patel, “Coos County Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance passes by wide margin,” World (Coos Bay, OR), November 3, 2015, theworldlink.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/elections/coos-county-second-amendment-preservation-ordinance-passes-by-wide-margin/article_188f6bed-6fbe-5369-8a0c-8158861b4f68.html. The Oregon Firearms Federation lists 24 Oregon counties, and several towns, which have issued various “ordinances, resolutions or letters defending gun rights,” regarding both SB 941 and other issues.(6)“Counties And Cities With Pro-Gun Ordinances, Proclamations, Resolutions or Letters,” Oregon Firearms Federation, www.oregonfirearms.org/counties-pro-gun-ordinances-proclamations-resolutions-letters.

The movement seized other heated organizing opportunities, some of which we will explore further in the county sections.

  • In Josephine County in April 2015, armed activists traveled to Sugar Pine Mine in support of miners’ whose longstanding disagreement with the Bureau of Land Management had come to a head.(7)Tay Wiles, “Sugar Pine Mine, the other standoff,” High Country News, February 2, 2016, www.hcn.org/issues/48.2/showdown-at-sugar-pine-mine. Some of those present had been at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada the year before, and would later be at the Malheur occupation. The Bureau of Land Management backed off, and after a couple of months the camps disbanded. After this event, a number of Oregon and Idaho groups formed the Pacific Patriots Network.
  • In July 2015, the Oath Keeper’s “Protect the Protectors” program sent members to “guard” military recruiting stations, including in Bend, Oregon, after an alleged Islamist “lone wolf” attack against a Tennessee recruiting station and military installation killed five people.(8)Stewart Rhodes, “Oath Keepers National Call to Action: Help Us ‘Protect The Protectors’ by Guarding Recruiting and Reserve Centers,” Oath Keepers, July 21, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/oath-keepers-national-call-to-action-help-us-protect-the-protectors-by-guarding-recruiting-and-reserve-centers; Stewart Rhodes, “Critical Update and Clarification on Operation Protect the Protectors, from Stewart Rhodes,” Oath Keepers, July 27, 2015, www.oathkeepers.org/critical-update-and-clarification-on-operation-protect-the-protectors-from-stewart-rhodes; Travis J. Tritten, “Army to recruiters: Treat armed citizens as security threat,” Stars and Stripes, July 22, 2015, www.stripes.com/news/us/army-to-recruiters-treat-armed-citizens-as-security-threat-1.359134.
  • In August 2015, many armed Oregon Patriot movement activists with the newly formed Pacific Patriots Network traveled to White Hope Mine in Lincoln, Montana, for an encampment in support of miners who were in conflict with the U.S. Forest Service.(9)David Neiwert, “‘Patriots’ Heed ‘Call to Action’ to ‘Protect’ Montana Mine from a Baffled U.S. Forest Service,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 11, 2015, www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/08/11/‘patriots’-heed-‘call-action’-‘protect’-montana-mine-baffled-us-forest-service; David Neiwert, “Dispatch From Lincoln: ‘Patriots’ Lost in the Haze at Contested Montana Mine Site,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 27, 2015, www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/08/27/dispatch-lincoln-‘patriots’-lost-haze-contested-montana-mine-site.
  • Also in August 2015, Oregon Patriot movement members showed up during the removal of Jackson County’s Fielder Dam; although it was on private land, it hampered salmon migration. The Patriot movement members claimed the removal unleashed toxins in into the water stream, and lobbied county governments to intervene; independent tests did not show elevated toxin levels, however.(10)Shaun Hall, “Tests find no heavy metals in Evans Creek,” Mail Tribune (Medford, OR)/Daily Courier (Grants Pass, OR), March 21, 2016, www.mailtribune.com/article/20160321/NEWS/160329928; Jeff Duewel, “Fielder Dam is gone, but controversy remains, Dam removed following lawsuit to help Rogue River fish,” Mail Tribune (Medford, OR)/Daily Courier (Grants Pass, OR), August 24, 2015, www.mailtribune.com/article/20150824/NEWS/150829810; “Decimation of Fielder Dam on Evans Creek, releasing toxic sediment into Rogue River,” YouTube video, 4:19, posted by “kevstir,” August 27, 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJUaNLIZTGU. See also “Fielder Dam Removal,” Oath Keepers of Josephine County, OR, https://web.archive.org/web/20160727190904/http://oathkeepersjoco.com/news.php. For Olsen addressing Jackson County commission meeting on August 26, 2015, see “Fielder Dam: Waterwatch’s Decimation of Jackson County Property (26 Aug 2015),” YouTube video, 10:22, posted by “kevstir,” August 27, 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aJjGEbJiVY. For Rice addressing the Josephine County commission, see “General Discussion: August 25, 2015,” Josephine County, http://co.josephine.or.us/Files/08-25-15 General.pdf. For an alternate view from the community, see America Speak Out, “Josephine County Arsenic Eco-Scare,” America Speak Out, http://americaspeakout.com.
  • On October 9, 2015, Three Percenters and Oath Keepers helped organize a protest against President Obama’s visit to Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon, after a mass shooting—although they kept their participation out of public view. Located in Douglas County, its sheriff, John Hanlin had previously signed the CSPOA letter to Biden against gun laws and promoted conspiracy theories about 9/11 and Sandy Hook.(11)Robert Mackey, “Oregon Sheriff Shared Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theory on Facebook,” New York Times, October 2, 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/10/03/us/oregon-sheriff-shared-sandy-hook-conspiracy-theory-on-facebook.html.

So the movement was generating steam in the months before the Malheur occupation and, as we will see, embedding itself in the life of many counties. It also had elected officials it could rely upon.