On the night of January 2, 2016, an armed militia group occupied a government building in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon to protest federal land management. The standoff is the latest in a long string of recent incidents involving antigovernment groups. Some have been dangerous. Some have been laughable. The common factor is that all of them have been certifiably insane.
10The Bundy Farm Standoff In Nevada
As of January 2016, the Oregon standoff appears to be the work of Ammon Bundy and his two brothers. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because they’ve done this before. In April 2014, the Bundy boys and their father, Cliven, took on the federal government in an even bigger armed standoff. Incredibly, they won.
The Nevada standoff started when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) slapped Cliven Bundy with a $1.1 million fine for unpaid cattle grazing fees. When Bundy refused to pay, the BLM confiscated 380 cows. Bundy’s response was to reach for his weapons, call up his friends, and begin an armed standoff that lasted over a week.
At its height, the Nevada standoff attracted 600 “patriot” and militia members. Men with assault rifles took up sniper positions on a freeway overpass. Women and children faced down armed BLM agents across a riverbed.
The militia’s game plan was so obviously suicidal that everyone was preparing themselves for another Waco. Instead, something wholly unexpected happened. After seven days of watching the ranch, the BLM quietly packed up and vanished into the night.
As of mid-2015, large tracts of land around the ranch were essentially free of government control. This was a massive victory for the militia movement in general and couldn’t have come at a better time for them. Prior to the Bundy standoff, their insane schemes had almost never worked.
9The Republic Of Texas Standoff
The Republic of Texas standoff of 1997 remains the benchmark for crazy, doomed militia schemes. Led by Rick McLaren, a group of five armed people calling themselves the Republic of Texas kidnapped two neighbors and held them hostage as “prisoners of war.” Then they barricaded themselves in McLaren’s trailer before engaging over 300 state troopers for nearly a week.
McLaren was as nutty as they come. Convinced that Texas had been illegally annexed, he billed himself as the state’s leader and converted his home into an “embassy.” At the time of the kidnapping, his total number of followers stood at six—including his fiancee/wife. The two were married under the laws of the Republic of Texas, so it’s debatable whether their union really counts.
Nonetheless, McLaren would only surrender in a military-style ceremony befitting his nonexistent high position. Presumably anxious to save lives, the state troopers granted his request.
Insane as it was, the standoff wasn’t exactly free of bloodshed. After one of McLaren’s followers, Mike Matson, surrendered, he pointed a gun at an officer. He was shot and killed.
8The Gray Family Standoff
Just outside Dallas, a family militia is currently engaged in the longest standoff in US history. Their elderly patriarch, John Joe Gray, was bailed out of jail for assaulting a state trooper way back in January 2000. Rather than report for sentencing, Gray and his family took up arms and holed up in a 50-acre ranch in Trinidad, Texas. Over 16 years later, they’re still there.
Although it’s technically a standoff, the reality is that things are pretty one-sided. Police monitored the Gray family for months after John Joe skipped bail. But eventually, they decided that bringing him in simply wasn’t worth the effort.
The Gray family has made it abundantly clear that they’re itching for a firefight. As the Henderson County sheriff said in 2011, “John Joe Gray is not worth it. Ten of him is not worth going up there and getting one of my young deputies killed.”
Besides, the Grays are hardly living the high life. The compound has no running water and no electricity. Food has to be grown in fields plowed by donkeys. Their only contact with the outside world is via shortwave radio. The whole thing sounds so utterly depressing that we can’t help feeling that Papa Gray would have been better off just paying the fine.
7The Waffle House Plot
In 2011, federal agents busted up one of the strangest militia plots in US history. Focused around a group in Georgia known as the covert group, the four men in their seventies did most of their plotting in a Waffle House. The specifics of the plan were almost as unlikely as the circumstances. According to the FBI, the men planned to make deadly ricin from castor beans and kill millions of people.
If their plan sounds like something from the realms of cheap fiction, that’s because it is. Large parts of it were lifted wholesale from a self-published novel by a Fox News expert who became big in the militia community.
In the cautionary tale, a group of citizens take up arms over the issues of gay marriage and gun control, kill a bunch of government officials, and spark a second American revolution. At least one member of the covert group said that they should base their own actions on the novel.
The case became even crazier when it turned out that the government’s star witness was a convicted pedophile. That didn’t stop all four men from going down on terrorism charges.
6The Oath Keepers Plots
The Oath Keepers are one of the biggest, oddest militia groups currently in existence. While some of their activities involve taking on the government—they were present during the Bundy ranch standoff—others involve things like arming Black Lives Matter protesters. In short, they’re not your standard ultraright types.
That doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally bring crazy to the table. Over the years, individual Oath Keepers have been caught up in a number of plots that are equally terrifying and absurd.
Most notably, member Darren Huff was arrested for plotting to take over a courthouse in Tennessee. Armed with a pistol and an assault rifle, Huff planned to round up the two dozen officials at the courthouse and place them under citizen’s arrest. His motivation was to free his friend Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, who had also tried to place officials under citizen’s arrest. What would have happened next if Huff had 24 “prisoners” on his hands is anyone’s guess.
Potentially more dangerous but no less insane, Oath Keeper Matthew Fairfield was arrested in 2010 for storing a live napalm bomb in his attic—a move that manages to be both deeply scary and deeply stupid all at once.
5The Victor White Standoff
Although he acted alone, Victor White was a sympathizer of the Republic of Texas militia movements. Given what we discussed earlier about Rick McLaren, it’s perhaps no surprise that White wound up going off the deep end. In 2010, a sheriff and two oilmen approached White’s property near the town of Odessa. Convinced that the oil company was poisoning his water, White opened fire. What followed was a standoff from a Warner Bros. cartoon.
Although he’d seriously wounded a deputy and hurt another man, White didn’t take his predicament seriously at all. When 150 law enforcement officials surrounded his home, he started swigging Wild Turkey and playing his guitar. When snipers took up position, he started to do some housecleaning.
Between manic bouts of activity, he found time to fire shots at the police helicopters circling overhead. For 22 hours straight, this one-man monument to crazy kept the whole town in a state of nervous tension.
Things finally ended when White deliberately set his house on fire and ran out shirtless into the waiting arms of law enforcement officials. But this wasn’t the end of White’s antics. Not long after his arrest, he sued the city of Odessa for $175 million for “reckless endangerment of my due tranquility.”
4The Ed And Elaine Brown Standoff
If there’s one thing many militias hate, it’s paying taxes. So when former “patriot” group members Ed and Elaine Brown were convicted in absentia of tax evasion, there was no way they were coming quietly. In February 2007, the couple barricaded themselves in their self-sufficient New Hampshire estate. It sparked a standoff that lasted eight months and became a right-wing cause celebre.
The couple explicitly compared their situation to that of Ruby Ridge and clearly expected to die in the standoff. They were armed to the teeth, their property was booby-trapped, and the whole place was filled with enough explosives to level a small city. At one point, Elaine Brown told The Washington Post that “the only way to leave here is free or dead.” The couple was planning to die as martyrs.
What saved this from becoming another Waco was the Browns’ insanely cavalier attitude toward security. Throughout their eight-month standoff, they held dinner parties, picnics, fundraisers, and barbecues on their property. They often invited supporters in for a chat. Eventually, two marshals turned up posing as sympathizers and were invited in. Both Elaine and Ed were arrested without a shot fired.
3The “Patriot” Pipe Bomb Plot
Even among the hard-line “patriot” militias, there are certain people who can outcrazy everyone else. Meet one such person: Michael Sibley was a militia member who was terrified of Muslim terror attacks. In fact, he was so scared that he staged his own Islamist bombing to prove how scary Muslims really are.
In late 2014, Sibley loaded up a bag with two pipe bombs and dumped it in the middle of an Atlanta park. Alongside the devices, he planted a copy of the Quran, a map with the location of Jewish centers and transport links marked, and a copy of The Rape of Kuwait. In addition, Sibley scrawled the name “Mina Khodari” across the backpack because he thought it “looked foreign.” After leaving the bomb, he disappeared into the Atlanta morning.
At this point, things get hazy. Sibley claims that he didn’t want to kill anyone and that the bomb was meant to be a wake-up call to law enforcement about the danger of Muslims. In his defense, the bombs lacked a power source to help them detonate.
On the other hand, they were functioning pipe bombs stuffed full of nails and easily capable of killing passersby. Whatever Sibley’s motivation, he was later arrested. His mad plan to stop Islamic extremism by carrying out an Islamist bombing never came to pass.
2The FEAR Plot
Forever Enduring Always Ready (aka FEAR) was an anarchist militia group that operated out of an army base in Georgia. Their name alone tells you everything you need to know about them. Having clearly modeled themselves after supervillain groups like Spectre, the militia came up with a plan so crazy that it seems like something out a Roger Moore–era Bond movie.
Their plans ran the gamut from mundane to surreal. At the saner end of the scale, they planned to take over their army base in a firefight and bomb a park in Georgia. At the cloud-cuckoo-land end, they wanted to blow up a dam and poison all the apples in the state of Washington. As if that wasn’t enough, they also intended to assassinate Obama and overthrow the government.
Although the four members of FEAR were clearly wacko, they were also highly dangerous. At the time of their arrest, the group had stockpiled an $85,000 arsenal of weapons and had already murdered two people.
1The Neo-Nazi Dirty Bomb
If he’d had his way, James G. Cummings would have his name up there with Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden. A multimillionaire neo-Nazi from Maine, Cummings was an ardent admirer of Hitler, a wife abuser, and a deranged pedophile. He hated Obama and advocated armed resistance against the US government.
But that is really no different than your standard antigovernment craziness. What really makes Cummings stand out is that he tried to channel those feelings into detonating a dirty bomb in the middle of Washington, DC.
When the FBI raided his home in January 2009, they found the components for a toxic, radioactive bomb. According to a report leaked on WikiLeaks, Cummings intended to detonate the bomb in the capital during Obama’s inauguration.
Although it’s extremely doubtful that the “dirty” part of his dirty bomb would have succeeded, the bomb part probably would have. The only reason you don’t know him as the guy who set off an explosion during Obama’s inauguration is because of his wife, Amber.
For someone wanting to bring down the government in the most violent way possible, Cummings was spectacularly bad at forging alliances. He tormented Amber for years and was making suggestions that he might physically abuse her daughter, Claira.
Finally, a couple of months before Cummings intended to attack Washington, Amber snapped. She took a revolver and shot her deranged husband to death in his sleep. Thanks to her actions, Cummings’s name now turns up on frivolous lists about insane militia plots rather than on much scarier lists about America’s most infamous domestic terrorists.