Joe Arpaio's Pal Ammon Bundy Leads Takeover of Federal Building in Oregon

***Please see updates below***

The leader of an armed anti-government group that has occupied a federal wildlife building in Oregon once lived in Phoenix and can boast connections to local Republican politicians, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Following a rally in support of two Oregon ranchers on Saturday, Ammon Bundy, son of rebellious Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and a handful of individuals, including Ammon's brother Ryan and right-wing Arizona extremist Jon Ritzheimer, took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, vowing to remain there indefinitely. 

In a video posted to Bundy's Facebook page, Bundy said he and others felt the need to take a "hard stand" against the government after the rally in support of local father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, who have been convicted of setting fire to federal land.

Bundy vowed that his group would not leave until "the people of Harney County can use the land and resources and not be put in fear."

In another video, posted to the website for the Oregonian newspaper, Bundy invited supporters to bring their firearms and join the holdout, which he described as "the point of the spear" in a fight against federal overreach.

Through their lawyer, the Hammonds have stated that neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone in the original group of protesters speaks for them.
Bundy is no stranger to greater Phoenix. He still lists Phoenix as his residence on Facebook, though his immediate family no longer resides here, according to several sources. 

In April 2014, Bundy met with Arpaio about two weeks after the Bundy family and supporters engaged in an armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management agents over grazing rights for Bundy cattle in Nevada.

The standoff was defused with no loss of life. Ammon's father, Cliven, became a right-wing icon for a moment, until the elder Bundy's  comments about "the Negro" being better off "picking cotton" under slavery caused a backlash.

Despite the controversy (or more likely because of it), Arpaio met with Ammon Bundy to hear his concerns about a similar standoff with the feds happening in Maricopa County.

Arpaio told local media that if that occurred, he would have to "play it by ear," that his main interest would be "to take care of the people in this county."

Bundy came away pleased with Arpaio's statement. 

"That's what I was wanting to hear," he told ABC 15.

Arpaio's office has not responded to a request for comment from the sheriff on Ammon Bundy and the Oregon standoff.

Ammon Bundy has other contacts with local Republicans. 
Both he and his father have spoken at Mesa's über-conservative Red Mountain Tea Party, and Ammon participated in a gun rights rally last February on the grounds of the Arizona Capitol grounds.

In a photo from the Second Amendment rally, Ammon is seen standing next to Republican state Representative Kelly Townsend, who spoke at the event. 

Townsend posted the photo to her Twitter account with the message, "Gr8 day at #AZLEG for the #2A rally. Glad to see Ammon Bundy & family there!"

Townsend and other Arizona legislators traveled to Nevada in 2014 to show support for the Bundy family in its fight with the feds. One of these legislators was then-state Senator Kelli Ward, who is challenging U.S. Senator John McCain's re-election in the GOP primary.

Ward could not be reached for comment.

But Townsend said, while she is sympathetic to the plight of the Hammonds, she does not support breaking the law, as the Bundy group is now doing.

In fact, Townsend said she called Ryan Bundy after hearing of the incident.
"I asked him, `What happened?'" she recalled. "He told me, `We have taken possession of a federal building.'"

She asked him if he was "ready to go to prison" for his actions.

"He told me something to the effect, 'We don't recognize the federal government,'" she said.

Townsend replied that the takeover would "discredit" any effort to help the Hammonds. That's where the call ended, she told New Times.

She says she texted Ryan a message, telling him the group needed to "stand down," but so far there has been no reply.

Online wags are mocking the Bundy group on Twitter with hashtags, such as #YallQaeda and #YeeHawdists.

This, while many worry about the possibility of a violent confrontation, like the fiery end to the 1993 federal siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which left 76 deceased, or the deadly 1992 standoff between the feds and extremist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which claimed the lives of three.

Update 2:29 p.m.:MCSO spokeswoman Lisa Allen just e-mailed New Times the following statement:

"When Bundy came to this office in the early summer 2015, he was living in an area under the MCSO jurisdiction (an area of Laveen where we are the provider of LE services). He alerted this agency that he felt unsafe in his neighborhood and thought it prudent to inform the Office. It was a meeting of about 15 minutes, where ultimately the Sheriff said to notify the Office if anything did, in fact, happen. Therefore, calling Bundy a “pal” of Joe Arpaio’s is an outright distortion of fact, wouldn’t you agree? Perhaps you can clarify to your readers.":

Update 4:09 p.m.: The LDS Church issues a statement on the Oregon standoff.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a statement in response to inquiries about the faith of Ammon Bundy and some of his followers, who reportedly are Mormons.

It says the following:

"While the disagreement occurring in Oregon about the use of federal lands is not a Church matter, Church leaders strongly condemn the armed seizure of the facility and are deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles. This armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis. We are privileged to live in a nation where conflicts with government or private groups can — and should — be settled using peaceful means, according to the laws of the land."

Oregon Public Broadcasting has published an interesting primer to what it calls "The Bundy Militia’s Particular Brand Of Mormonism," which is worth reading. It quotes Ammon Bundy as claiming to have been divinely inspired to lead the takeover. And it discusses a figure in LDS scripture named Captain Moroni, whose tale parallels the Bundy revolt, in some ways.

OPB writes that,

"According to LDS scripture, Captain Moroni took command of the Nephites when he turned 25. Moroni innovated weaponry, strategy and tactics to help secure the safety of the Nephites, and allow them to worship and govern as they saw fit.

"In LDS scripture, Moroni prepares to confront a corrupt king by tearing off part of his coat and turning it into a flag, hoisting it as a `title of liberty.' This simple call to arms inspired a great patriotism in the Nephites, helping to raise a formidable army. Vastly outnumbered, the corrupt king fled. According to the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni continued to push for liberty among his people.

"`And it came to pass that Moroni was angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country.'"

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons