The scuffle, for which one man allegedly landed in the hospital with injuries, appears to have been part of a turf war over media attention.
Many details remain blurry, but here’s what we know so far:
On one side were the militiamen who have been occupying the federal building since last week in protest of what they say is an over-reaching, tyrannical federal government. While the head of the standoff is Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the main person involved in the fight was Arizona right-wing extremist Blaine Cooper.
On the other side were a different group of “patriots,” many of whom appear to also live in Arizona. This group is headed up by Michael “Lewis Arthur” Meyer, the Tucson veteran who was arrested twice last year for climbing flag poles in Surprise to draw attention to veteran suicides. Arthur says he went to Oregon for two reasons: to remove Ryan Payne, one of the pro-Bundy militants in the compound who he claims is mentally unstable, and to liberate women and children in the compound.
(There have been no confirmed reports of women and children inside the building.)
According to the Oregonian, after Arthur’s group arrived in Burns, they “erected a military-style camo tent across the street from the compound, symbolizing sympathy with the militants' complaints against the federal government and dissent to the group's standoff.”
Arthur told reporters that he and Payne, who he claims is “suicidal” and on a mission to become a right-wing martyr for the cause, had a falling out in 2014 while participating in Cliven Bundy’s standoff against the federal government.
Late Wednesday night, Arthur says he entered the compound and was attacked by Cooper. Others then joined in, and someone beat up Arthur’s friend, Jeff “J Dog” Kagan.
J Dog posted the following account of the “assault” on Facebook:
“As soon as we made it on property an individual approached Lewis and immediately put his hands on lewis and the same individual kneed another CRT member as well. He tried hitting them with a black flashlight… We than advanced down the driveway into the refuge.
While walking a white truck containing individuals with Blain Cooper in it. He called lewis and lewis stated not now Blain. Blaine cooper ran after lewis and punched him from behind. Lewis than turned around and hot hit again. I ran over to try and say we don't need this and than Mr. Cooper stuck me in the face and than i called 911 at that time. Lewis ordered us to leave the property and not return violence...we left property.”
But according to two men on the Cooper-Bundy side of the scuffle, that’s not what happened:
Jon Ritzheimer, Arizona’s infamous anti-Islam extremist, told the Oregonian that Arthur initiated the scuffle because he wanted “a couple seconds of fame,” and Jason Patrick, another one of the occupiers who claims to also know Arthur from the 2014 Nevada standoff, tells a similar story on Facebook:
"After a multitude of highly productive and peaceful meetings in town and on site, Lewis Aurther (antagonist camped across the street) came to breach the gate. Three hours after his arrival Lewis assaulted the guard causing minor damage to the gaurd and vehicle. Lewis continued his marched down the hill with his large companion and side kick. He was met on the hill where another altercation insued and he was escorted to the street where he continued to rant and cause a large scene. He stated his intentions to "tear this thing down" upon his arrival and setting up his camp across the street. His intentions on destruction are a clear and present danger to a so far peaceful and constitutional stand with worldwide attention.”
Earlier this week, Patrick had this to say about Arthur:
“Lewis Aurther aka "Louie the prepper" the well known antagonist has set up camp across the street. I know Lewis from a face to face meeting in Nevada where he made a bunch of false accusations of massive theft and me personally being a federal agent. He has instantly expressed intentions of "tearing this thing down". Dispite his current work "veterans on patrol", he is bad news here.”
So is Arthur on a mission to destroy the Bundy protest? Cooper, the Arizona man who threw the punches, sure thinks so. Here’s his third-person account of what happened during the Oregon mêlée:
“Lewis Arthur with two other men came into refuge last night and the 3 of them assaulted a disabled Vietnam Veteran at the gate. They threw him to the ground and cut his hand, and broke his mirror off his truck. Then stormed into the refuge and ganged up on Blaine Cooper and assaulted him, Blaine Defended himself and was able to hold the three off and make them leave the refuge several witness the event. He was not welcome and is not apart of the Operation. But forced his way in anyway he was told not to come because it was a safety issue. I do believe Lewis Is a Paid Provocateur by the Fed's to divide and destroy.”
As the protest enters its seventh day, rumors of infighting and ever-worsening morale are flying through the media – while New Times cannot confirm the story, The Daily Kos reported that one of the men raising money with Ritzheimer through his Rogue Infidel website ran off with the money and spent it on a drinking binge.
Will more internal drama thwart the “patriots'” mission, or will they run out of beer, canned corn, and mac and cheese first?
Who knows, but multiple media outlets are reporting today that Ammon Bundy has been meeting with the local sheriff, ostensibly to negotiate the group’s departure, meaning this exciting standoff on a remote wildlife refuge in the middle of eastern Oregon could be over soon.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE...
Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.