Arizona’s infamous anti-Islam leader, Jon Ritzheimer, is hunkered down with about a dozen other armed “patriots” in buildings on a federal wildlife refuge as part of an armed protest against the federal government.
He says he’s been in Harney County, a rural ranching area in eastern Oregon, for at least a week and a half to fight for the freedom and constitutional rights of all Americans.
“You see, [I] swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, which is blatantly under attack. But the only way to defend it is to actually take a stand and defend it,” Ritzheimer says in a new video he posted on social media to explain his actions.
“I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching up here. And I’m with good people who have also had to do a lot of soul searching – some people that have been doing this soul searching for years.
“And I am 100 percent willing to lay my life down to fight against tyranny in this country.”
What exactly is Ritzheimer willing to die for?
Quick recap: This all began with two Oregon ranchers who served a short stint in federal prison for arson after they admitted to setting fires on federal lands illegally.
Steven Hammond, 46, and his father, Dwight Hammond, 73, were ordered to return to prison by a federal judge who ruled that the two must serve more time because of a 1996 law that mandates acts of domestic terrorism receive at least a five-year sentence.
This announcement, suffice it to say, ignited the entire national right-wing, anti-government militia movement.
Ritzheimer and other “patriots” across the country are infuriated by the judge’s decree and see it as one more instance of a tyrannical and overreaching federal government taking advantage of “the people.”
As far as they’re concerned, the Constitution says federal lands belong to the local people so the Bureau of Land Management, which maintains jurisdiction over the land in question, has no right to be there.
Legal arguments aside, Ritzheimer and a large group of armed right-wing militiamen promptly went to Burns, held a demonstration, and then took over an unoccupied federal building on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Original reports stated there were close to 150 armed protesters inside the building, but the number now is thought to be closer to a dozen.
In an FBI statement, agents said: “Due to safety considerations for both those inside the refuge as well as the law enforcement officers involved, [they] will not be releasing any specifics with regards to the law enforcement response.”
So, as far as we know, Ritzheimer still is one of the men there. (He did not respond to multiple requests for comments but has been posting regularly on social media.)
“When [the Constitution is] being infringed upon, you come together and you make a stand: you defend it,” Ritzheimer says. “The oppression and the tyranny that’s taking place here in Oregon, we know it’s taking place across the U.S. – the Bundy Ranch was prime example.”
(Ritzheimer is referring to the 2014 armed standoff between the federal government and protesters in Nevada who rallied around rancher Cliven Bundy, who refused to pay grazing fees for using federal land and thus became a a symbol of perceived federal overreach. Bundy’s sons are current leaders in this new Oregon standoff.)
But before joining his “fellow patriots” in the armed takeover, to show how seriously he takes this situation, Ritzheimer uploaded what may be his most emotional video yet: a goodbye message to his wife and daughters.
With tears in his eyes – and a few rolling down his cheeks — he holds up a pocket-sized Constitution and explains to his daughters: “Your Daddy swore an oath. He swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s why he couldn’t be with you on Christmas – that’s why I can’t be with you on New Years.”
Later in the video, Ritzheimer says forcefully: “I want to die a free man.” He then sniffles, looks away from the camera, and adds: “More than anything, I want to be with my family. I do not want to be up here having to deal with this.
“But if you do not spearhead this and take a stand, it’s going to set a new precedent around the U.S. They” – presumably the federal government – “get stronger and continue to think that they can go around and bully ‘we the people.’”
According to Ritzheimer, “this Hammond family has been so oppressed” and the situation they are in is such an egregious violation of everything the U.S. stands for, that it’s worth dying for — “Does that mean I want war? Does that make me some sort of a warmonger? No!” he says.
According to the New York Times, lawyers for the Hammond family say the two men do not welcome the help of the protesters and have agreed to return to prison.
But Ritzheimer goes on to explain that there’s a conspiratorial smear campaign against him and his fellow patriots, as rumors spread across the country that the people of Harney County don’t want them there and feel harassed by their tactics.
Don’t believe those rumors, Ritzheimer says: “We’re out here trying to win the hearts and minds of the people of Harney County.”
He and other protesters have vowed to maintain their ground for as long as necessary.
“When you unite and you take a stand,” Ritzheimer says, “there’s no stopping us.”
Watch Ritzheimer's latest video: