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Anger, Threats Over Malheur Arrests, Death Spur Feds to Issue Warning to Law Enforcement, Federal Workers

Law enforcement bulletin from DHS, FBI outlines threats to officers, employees, and suggests ways to combat them.

Responding to a rising tide of threats in the wake of the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., federal authorities are warning law enforcement agencies around the nation to be on the lookout for retaliatory violence from extremists affiliated with the antigovernment movement.

Eleven people affiliated with Ammon Bundy’s “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom” were arrested in a law enforcement sweep operation on Jan. 26, while one member of the self-described “revolutionaries” – Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a 54-year-old Arizona rancher – was shot and killed and while resisting arrest. More than two weeks later, on Feb. 11, the standoff ended when four remaining militants inside the compound surrendered to face federal charges for their activities during the takeover, which began Jan. 2.

“In response to news of the arrests, some militia extremists and their supporters have called for violence or unspecified nationwide action against law enforcement, federal facilities, and US government employees,” the bulletin, issued jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, said.  

Threats have swirled around the scene at the wildlife refuge since it began. Even before the takeover, government offices in Oregon closed due to fears of violence emanating from the antigovernment movement. After the Jan. 26 arrests, federal authorities bolstered security at a number of other wildlife refuges in the region, citing the need to “remain vigilant to ensure employee and visitor safety throughout the region.” At least one refuge – Turnbull, near Cheney, Wash. – closed briefly in response to the occupation. The Oregon State Patrol, one of whose troopers shot Finicum, also has received death threats over the shooting.

The DHS’s participation in issuing the bulletin is noteworthy. A previous DHS bulletin, issued in 2009 – similarly directed as an advisory for the nation’s law enforcement officers – described the potential threat of domestic extremist recruitment, particularly among returning war veterans. The bulletin proved accurately prophetic, but a backlash fueled by wild misrepresentations of the bulletin’s contents drove the department to rescind  and apologize for the report, as well as to shrink the DHS domestic extremism unit to a single person. 

More recently, however, the Department of Justice announced it would revive its group monitoring domestic extremism, which produced a predictably hysterical response. The recent arrests of both the Malheur occupiers led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, as well as the arrest of their father, Cliven Bundy, on charges related to the April 2014 standoff he led with federal authorities, are clear indicators that the previous trend toward law enforcement downplaying the threat of far right terrorism is beginning to reverse itself.

This bulletin is worded very carefully, saying that the combination of threats from Bundy’s group and “because the CCF had been urging local residents to occupy other federal facilities, the FBI and DHS urge recipients of this bulletin to use caution during encounters with suspected domestic extremists, and to be vigilant of potential surveillance or pre-operational indicators.”

It goes on to warn that some of these indicators “may be constitutionally protected activities and should be supported by additional facts to justify increased suspicions,” adding that “no single behavioral indicator should be the sole basis for law enforcement action; rather the totality of behavioral indicators and other relevant circumstances should be evaluated when considering any law enforcement response or action. Independently, each behavioral indicator may represent legitimate recreational or commercial activities. Multiple indicators, however, could suggest a threat.”

Some of these indicators include:

  • “New or increased advocacy of violence in response to the recent events in Oregon — such as vows to avenge the death that occurred during the enforcement action;”
  • “Evidence of planned travel to Oregon — possibly as part of a group — to engage in violence in support of the individuals still present at the MNWR;”
  • “Demonstrating an unusual interest in site security reaction drills or procedures; causing multiple false alarms or fictitious emergency calls to the same locations or similar venues;”
  • “Attention to or avoidance of surveillance cameras;”
  • “Acquisition of suspicious quantities of weapons and ammunition, or of materials that could be used to produce explosives, such as hydrogen peroxide, acetone, gasoline, propane, or fertilizer.”

The bulletin also suggested a number of measures that law enforcement officers and federal employees could take, including increasing the visibility of armed security and raising community awareness of potential threats.

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