For Ammon Bundy, the takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge is a coming out of sorts.
Though his father became a household name after a successful standoff with government rangers in 2014, the younger Bundy leading the charge in Harney County was a relative unknown until four days ago.
Since then, Ammon Bundy has become the face of the occupation. The 40-year-old father of six has made national news as he’s urged “fellow patriots” to join him — first to protest the imprisonment of two Burns area ranchers and then, more recently, to help the “abused” residents of the county.
A quiet and bearded man often wearing flannel and a broad-brimmed hat, Bundy has no criminal record, based on his own accounts and government records. The FBI in his home state of Arizona has said he has not been the target of any investigation there.
Ammon Bundy doesnt forsee immediate end to occupation Ammon Bundy declares that the militant group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge doesn’t foresee ending the occupation unless the community signals they are no longer welcome. Until then, he said, the group has a plan.
While the confrontation that made his father, Cliven Bundy, famous was the culmination of Bundy clan clashes with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management stretching over nearly 90 years, the occupation of the reserve is the first high-profile fight that a Bundy has taken up outside the family.
Ammon Bundy has struggled in other ventures. A small business owner, he’s been late the past two years paying his property taxes and county records show he lost a home to foreclosure in 2012. He says that the rental home was sold in a short sale.
And so far, it’s unclear whether Ammon Bundy’s mission is a success. The father-and-son ranchers he came to support have distanced themselves from the protest as they work to gain clemency from President Obama. Various patriot groups have disavowed his takeover of the refuge.
Bundy’s own father has questioned the move, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting at one point that he didn’t understand what his son and his supporters planned to accomplish.
“I think of it this way,” Cliven Bundy told the public radio station, “what business does the Bundy family have in Harney County, Oregon?”
The Bundy family
Ammon, named for a famous figure from the Book of Mormon, is soft-spoken and polite, thanking reporters at a Tuesday press conference as he announced his plans to continue occupying the refuge.
He noted his own sacrifices, appearing to get choked up as he spoke of missing his wife and children, the youngest of which was born a year ago.
Yet he went on to call for other people to join him to help defend the rights of ranchers, loggers, miners and others who have lost their way of life because of the government’s purchase of land and varying policies to control grazing on those lands.
Bundy, a registered Republican, has leaned more toward Tea Party movements in recent years. He’s spoken out on a handful of political issues at gatherings across the country, joined rallies to support American troops and in late 2014 and early 2015, posted several videos complaining that airport Transportation Security Administration agents interrogated him three different times as he attempted to board flights. He worried he had been labeled a domestic terrorist.
Still, by his own account, Ammon Bundy’s only brush with the law has been a traffic ticket.
He also has claimed that federal rangers used a stun gun on him during the standoff at his father’s 160-acre ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada.
The standoff occurred in April 2014 after Bureau of Land Management rangers came to seize cattle that Cliven Bundy had grazed on federal lands for decades without paying the required federal fees. Hundreds of ranchers came from across the country to support Bundy and held off the rangers, who eventually backed down.
While the ranchlands near the famous Bundy standoff in Nevada have been in the immediate family since the late 1940s, the family first planted its roots in Arizona.
Cliven Bundy’s great-grandfather — a Mormon pioneer — established a deeply conservative sect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Arizona Strip in the early 1900s. The area, north of the Grand Canyon, became known as Bundyville and comprised about 4,000 acres where the family ran cattle.
The Bundy family eventually left those lands in the 1930s after a series of Bureau of Land Management decisions regarding cattle grazing and conservation, according to a local TV station, LasVegasNow.com. The NBC news affiliate reported that while the Bundys could have held onto the land, they appeared to have lost necessary water rights.
The emerging leader
Ammon Bundy has talked in videos of his time on the family’s ranch in Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Yet records show that Ammon, one of 14 siblings, moved back to Arizona sometime in 2000, following a stint in Utah.
Bundy’s most recent address is in Laveen, Arizona, a rural enclave on the outskirts of Phoenix, where county records show he and his wife, Lisa Marie, own a peach-colored one-story house on a corner lot.
Lisa Marie Bundy, 37, lists herself as a stay-at-home mother on her Facebook page and notes she’s from Murray, Utah. Unlike her husband’s more political posts, she shows off baby and family pictures, including a shot of Ammon in a tractor pulling their children on a hay ride.
“Tonight Ammon and the kids drove the neighborhood in style,” she wrote, likely referring to their new home in Laveen. “We met so many wonderful families. That is a good way to break the ice. Happy Fall, friends…”
The Maricopa County Tax Assessor’s Office reports that Bundy and his wife were late paying a portion of their 2015 property taxes. The couple owe a total of $1,853, half of which was due in October. The county requires the second half — or in this case, the full amount — to be paid in March.
Bundy also was late in 2014, blowing both the October and March deadlines. The couple paid that tax bill of $2,082 two weeks ago on Dec. 21, according to the county.
Bundy says he fell behind after spending so much time helping his father in Nevada through the spring of 2014.
“I spent so much time there trying to defend my family’s right there,” he said. “I’ve never really stopped having to defend people’s rights.”
Records also show that Bundy and his wife lost a home in Maricopa County to foreclosure in April 2012.
Bundy says the rental home was under water and that he began working with a company who agreed to help him unload the property, but that he would have to skip a few payments. Bundy said that he believed the property was a short sale, not a foreclosure.
Throughout the last few years, records show Bundy has registered numerous businesses with Arizona related to heavy equipment, steel products and fleet management. He’s currently listed as manager and owner of Valet Fleet Service, which provides repair and maintenance services to vehicle fleets, and he’s pictured smiling alongside a semi-truck on the company’s website. He said his company has been successful for 18 years but that it did face tough times during the recession.
Though Bundy may not recognize the government’s authority when it comes to land ownership, his company benefited from at least one federal program.
Valet Fleet Service received a $530,000 loan from the Small Business Administration in 2010. The loan was awarded through a program geared for companies “unable to obtain financing in the private credit marketplace.”
Representatives with the agency could not immediately provide details on the status of the loan or its terms.
Bundy shrugs off any criticism over the help.
“That’s no handout, it’s a 6-percent interest loan,” he said, adding that he’s up-to-date on the payments. “It’s not welfare, it’s not a grant.
“It’s a loan.”
Ammon Bundy has said that he and his father received a call for help last year from Dwight and Steven Hammond, the father-son ranchers convicted of arson after a fire they lit damaged federal lands.
A judge had strayed from sentencing guidelines in the Hammond case and, after a successful appeal by former U.S. Attorney in Oregon Amanda Marshall, the ranchers were called back to finish the longer term set by federal guidelines.
Bundy posted several warnings through the end of the year, calling on others to be prepared to travel to Burns to support the ranchers. He had visited Oregon on several occasions and posted numerous Facebook posts and online videos updating his followers on the situation. In one, he said he’d watched Susie Hammond — Dwight’s wife — cry over the injustices her family had experienced.
By November, Ammon wrote that the Hammonds had heard from federal agents and were worried for their safety. They told him they’d have to cut off conversations with Bundy, he wrote, or risk a raid on their home.
Larry Matasar, one of the Hammonds’ three attorneys, said Bundy never talked to him. Matasar also would not confirm whether the Hammonds were contacted by federal agents about their conversations with Bundy.
As the Jan. 4 deadline for the Hammonds’ return to federal prison neared, Ammon Bundy spoke into his camera phone yet again, saying God had called him to leave his home and protest on behalf of the Hammonds.
“I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds,” Ammon said. “It was exactly like it was happening at the Bundy ranch, when we were guided and directed as to what we were supposed to do … And I ask you now to come participate in this wonderful thing in Harney County that the Lord is about to accomplish.”
Bundy and others joined in a protest Saturday with several patriot groups. However, Bundy, two of his brothers and about 20 other protesters split off from the parade and drove out to the refuge operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. One of Bundy’s men — LaVoy Finicum, a neighbor of his father’s Nevada ranch — said they found keys to the buildings and let themselves in.
“There is no place for intimidation and fear in a community, it shouldn’t be allowed and if government is being that fear and intimidation that it needs to be checked and balanced,” Bundy said Tuesday. “If other government entities will not do that, then it becomes the responsibility and duty of the people to remove that intimidation and fear so that members of the community can begin living and living in freedom.”
Bundy continued that his group has no plans to leave until the 187,000-acre refuge is divvied up and handed over to citizens. Though he has said he comes in peace, members of his group are armed and have said they’ll defend themselves if “attacked” by law enforcement.
Such words struck fear for some in Burns and nearby Hines, where 5,000 residents in the two towns make up the vast majority of the county’s population of 7,000. Schools there have remained closed, as well as other public buildings and the refuge, which is a significant economic driver for the county.
Law enforcement sources say it’s important to note that some of the same self-styled militia members who held federal rangers at bay in Bunkerville are at Bundy’s side in Burns. And late Tuesday, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said he and others aren’t giving militants free reign.
“Things are being done,” he told The Oregonian/OregonLive in an exclusive interview. “It’s not visible to the public.”
The sheriff also called Bundy out on his mission.
“I believe the Hammonds were exploited by these people.”
Carli Brosseau, Fedor Zarkhin and Lynne Palombo contributed to this report.
— Laura Gunderson
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