Get the popcorn ready because mere days after a physical fight broke out between rival Arizona “patriots” at the site of an armed militia takeover in Burns, Oregon, both sides are back at it, continuously accusing the other of, as one man put it, “bullcrap,” and of instigating the pettiness.
As New Times wrote late last week, the so-called peaceful armed protest at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon got a little less peaceful after a long-standing rivalry between Arizona groups devolved into a fistfight.
Who threw the first punch and who is at fault for the kerfuffle depends on whom you ask, but both sides have uploaded long videos to tell their version of what happened and to debunk the other group’s narrative.
According to Arizona extremists Jon Ritzheimer and Blaine Cooper, who have spent the past 10 days camping out in a federal building on the refuge with Ammon Bundy to protest government overreach, their guys simply were minding their own business, patrolling the compound as usual, when a crew led by Lewis Arthur — the Tucson-based man behind Veterans on Patrol — rolled up and started trouble.
In a new video uploaded to social media by Cooper, Ritzheimer calls Arthur “a mentally unstable person” and questions whether “he’s on drugs” or “if he’s schizophrenic and needs medication,” because far as Ritzheimer is concerned, Arthur only “came [to Oregon] trying to get his two seconds of fame on the camera.”
Here’s Ritzheimer’s account of the heated, testosterone-heavy argument that ensued after Arthur approached the compound and came across a Vietnam veteran called Wolf who was “up on post” and guarding the camp.
“As soon as Lewis Arthur came up, and the man was like, ‘Whoa, who are you?’ and Lewis Arthur immediately blasted and plowed into this Vietnam veteran, knocking his hand back into the mirror of his truck.”
Ritzheimer says after Wolf “[busted] his hand open,” Arthur “then proceeded to go down into the camp, storming and marching and yelling.”
While Arthur disputes the story, both in a YouTube video he recorded and in a short e-mail sent to New Times over the weekend, he did not respond to a request for further comment, so it remains unclear which specific aspects of the story he finds inaccurate.
That said, here’s his account of what happened:
“We came peacefully and unarmed and the violence was brought upon us first . . . Blaine Cooper sucker-punched me in the back of my head, then when these other two guys started coming towards me, and I moved towards them, he sucker-punched me again. Then Jeff and our team moved in, and then he punched Jeff and bust his bones and blacked his eye.”
Even though Jeff, or “J Dog,” posted a picture to Facebook of his bruised eye shortly after the altercation, Ritzheimer swears it didn’t come from Cooper.
“Allegedly there’s a man who was with [Arthur] who has a black eye now, I will tell you, and I’m giving you my absolute word, when they left here, that man did not have a black eye,” Ritzheimer says. “They came here and started problems.”
But Arthur is convinced that it’s Ritzheimer, Cooper, and company who “don’t want a peaceful resolution. We offered them a peaceful resolution, and we got punched in the back of the head and in the face for it.”
Arthur says he still supports the cause behind the armed standoff but suggests that the current tactic is failing because the “bad individuals in control” of the building “are out of control and doing it all the wrong way . . . This occupation is being ran by militias outside of Oregon, and the Hardy County residents don’t want us out here….We’ve come into a community [and] we’ve caused more harm than good.”
Don’t be intimidated by the movement, he adds, “You’ve only got about a dozen people out here who want a revolution, everyone else is just following a bunch of idiots, basically.”
Arthur says his mission was simply to “deescalate the situation” and remove the women and children from the compound: “When the Founding Fathers marched on tyranny, they didn’t take their wives and children into battle, yet we see American patriots out here taking their wives and children into battle knowing that this could end up being a Waco or Ruby Ridge.”
There have still been no confirmed media accounts of women and children living in the compound with the armed militiamen.
“This route leads to bloodshed,” Arthur says emphatically.
So what does he propose instead?
“All it would take” to solve the standoff “is a hundred of you [from Harney County] carrying flags and your Bibles without carrying any weapons. And you can go in there and make these few radicals leave.”
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The militiamen have vowed to remain bunkered down in the federal building until the Bureau of Land Management turns over all the federal land in the county to local ranchers, so it’s unclear whether this tactic could sway them.
So will Arthur, who returned to Arizona last week, go back to Oregon to lead a Bible-toting unarmed militia of locals to re-re-take back the compound?
But one thing remains clear: Ten days into this armed standoff, local media are reporting that more and more armed “patriots” are arriving, meaning that Arthur’s call for everyone “in the American patriot movement to stand down [and] not come out here,” might be going unheard.