Arizona Militant Charged in Oregon Standoff Pleads Guilty to One Count of Federal Conspiracy

One of the Arizona militants who occupied a federal wildlife building in Oregon earlier this year has pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States, court documents show.

Blaine Cooper (real name: Stanley Blaine Hicks) was arrested on February 11 for his role in the 40-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon, and remains in jail in Portland.

Prior to his arrest, Cooper, 37, lived with his wife and their two daughters in Humboldt, off Interstate 17 east of Prescott, where he frequently partook in anti-Islam activism with his good friend, ex-Marine Jon Ritzheimer. YouTube videos show he also claimed to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border to stop cartel activity.

Cooper and Ritzheimer drove to Oregon in January to take part in a protest of a federal judge's decision to send two local ranchers to jail for illegally setting fires on federal land. Somehow, in the course of that protest, a group of self-described patriots led by Ammon Bundy — son of infamous Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy — took over the unoccupied wildlife refuge and refused to leave.

Throughout the occupation, Cooper frequently appeared along with Bundy or other militants but tended not to speak to the media, choosing instead to express himself though social media. In fact, Cooper often seemed to serve as the de facto social-media liaison for the occupation. (The Oregonian reported that he "has a prior domestic violence conviction [and] is prohibited from possessing a firearm," which may explain his choice to carry a camera rather than a gun.)

Despite keeping a relatively low profile, Cooper drew some national attention for his role in a small but violent altercation between infighting militants early in the occupation, and then again when he claimed the Arizona Department of Child Safety had "kidnapped" his kids.

Cooper's children had been placed with his brother-in-law and were picked up a few days later by his wife, Melissa Cooper.

For weeks, the militants showed no sign of retreating, and perhaps fearful of starting a fiasco like the 1993 siege in Waco, Texas, the feds were oddly silent about the occupation. But on January 27, the situation took a radical turn, as law-enforcement agents fatally shot one of the militants, Robert "LaVoy" Finnicum.

That incident occurred on day 25 of the occupation, as leaders of the standoff were on their way to a speaking engagement in a nearby town and were intercepted by agents on a quiet stretch of U.S. Route 395.

Within days of Finnicum's death, dozens of militants were arrested — including Ritzheimer, who turned himself in to the FBI while visiting his family in Arizona — though a small group of occupiers continued to hold out. On Februray 11, the FBI nabbed Cooper while he and his family were driving through Utah on the way to Arizona, his wife reported on Facebook later that day.

Five months later, Cooper remains in jail while he and his lawyers hash out a plea bargain. He is the seventh person charged with the occupation to take a plea, and according to a terms of the deal, could face up to six years in jail. He will be sentenced on November 18.

Additionally, as was first reported by The Oregonian today, Cooper announced that he intended to take a plea for 11 other federal charges levied against him for his role in Cliven Bundy's 2014 armed standoff in Nevada. The terms of that deal are not yet known. His lawyer, Krista Shipsey, did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

If the deal goes through, Cooper will be the first person charged in the Nevada Bundy case to take a plea.

"He is very apologetic about his behavior,'' The Oregonian reported that Shipsey said in court yesterday. "He felt like a nobody, and this movement gave him a purpose in his life ... The fame took over his senses.''

Read Blaine Cooper's Plea Deal:

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser